Once in a fictive
time, in a fabulous
a rider forced his
way across the

hurried to war, but
in the nearing
distance, through the
steppe’s dust- haze,
the dark wood –

warnings nettles –
scrape at his heart:
tighten your saddle –
fear the forest’s
stream –

but the knight
disobeyed. He rode in
winged into a rush
onto the wooded

And leaving the
heights, entering a
withered valley,
passing a forest
the rider crossed a

strayed into a
hollow, tracked
the path that
animals take and
found the forest’s

Deaf to half-
heard warning
he led his
horse to drink.

By the stream, a cave;
facing the cave, a
crossing. Then sulphur
fire suddenly lights the
cave’s entrance,

and through the
crimson steam,
screened from sight, a
distant call
cries to the forest.

Quickening, knight
and horse step
forward toward the
clamour – the rider,
his lance

lowered – until he
sees the dragon –
dragon head,
dragon tail,
dragon scales, dragon jaws.

Dragon-fire lights
a dragon world,
and in the three
rings of
Its tail, a girl is bound.

The snake-tail
whipping the
girl’s arms, her

By odd tradition, as
its prey, a beautiful
girl is married yearly
to the monster in the

A country’s
people pays this
to a dragon to
redeem their
wretched houses.

A dragon binds its
victim’s arms, strangles
its victim’s voice. A
victim’s torture
is a dragon’s pleasure.

With eyes toward
heaven, entreating the
sky, battling his fortune,
the rider
aims his lance.

And centuries of
closed eyelids.
Summits. Clouds.
Rivers, streams,
crossings. Centuries
of eyelids.

The rider has been thrown
– his helmet trampled in
the battle – but the horse
faithfully tramples the

Now horse and dragon
carcass lie together on the
sand –
and the unconscious rider,
and the unconscious

Arched light-worlds at
midday. blue and tender.
Who is
the prisoner? A tsarevna?
Princess? The earth’s

From excessive
happiness, excessive tears –
felt inspiration, and
the power of sleep.

And now returning
Life but from a loss
of blood and
strength, only
imprisoned life.

Two hearts battling,
now her heart, now
his; in both, a power
again to flow again in sleep.

Centuries of closed
eyelids. Summits.
Clouds. Rivers,
streams, crossings.
Centuries of eyes.

Translated by Tony Brinkley

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