Bella Akhmadulina: The Coffee Imp

The Coffee Imp

“Past three again! Honest to God, what are you doing?”
“So, it’s after three—what’ll we talk about?”
In a period that’s alien I love the time that’s mine:
you, special hour, and you, my cheery friend, caffeine.

Coffee grounds, accomplice, your black-faced imp has come
to life again: it’s his time for playing; mine, for bed.
But let’s satisfy him: we’ll multiply our mind by him
and before dawn comes set free the answer in our head.

Others you tell fortunes: with me you just play tricks.
Once you know the outcome, why pretend to guess?
Yet if I ask directly, you flagrantly predict
a separation, no lovemaking, and night’s amazing grace.

The answer we got—but here’s a couple coming by.
Their bold and single heartbeat is quickened by the moon.
That verse composed itself from the snowscape out the window
and surely overlooked the imp that was on our mind.

It flew far off, returned but never really formed.
Let it think itself—it always knows what’s best.
After all, it figured out how to scissor out and snatch
Tarusa, night and me from countless, pointless days.

Hey, imp! It’s me you’re scampering in, not in some bar!
And let that verse keep quiet when it gets near his moon.
While he’s working on his self-creation, I love to watch
the way he sweats but always keep myself aloof.

He never causes me the slightest bit of trouble.
He makes his own things up—I write in ballpoint black.
Wait, I’ve forgotten—what comes next? What, Aunt Manya?
Oh yes. Here comes the woodsman with his heavy ax.

Meanwhile the verse turns watchful eye on nature’s doings.
As long as it keeps mystery safe, not betraying it
to language, fine! I’ll make do by catching the sunrise—
you lay sleeping—I was escorting it to you.

I’ve always thought that getting to an ungodly hour
is my own mite, my secret and mysterious feat.
Here, I haven’t gone to bed, and on my notebook
a tired droopy-headed imp is sound asleep.

I’ll go down to the Oka to pay my first respects.
Your disobedient servant now, the love that lies
within me makes me bold to speak: There’s no freewill, no peace,
but there’s good luck. That’s precisely what this is.

Translated by F.D. Reevee

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