Primer for Non-Native Speakers

This is an apple.  What is it?
A table.  Some bread and tea.  

And this? This is a ruble,
a rue, a wish I could sell you
exactly what I feel.   
A double negative: if you can’t
not speak, then write.  Sit and eat  
the peeled apple in your hand.

I understand X,
but cannot speak Y.

Possessive phrases: he has,
she has, I don’t have.
Look, I lack,
says my language.

My language—

A heavy winter coat,
tight in the shoulders.
Sour apples,
plucked by the breeze.
Dirt stars,
smudges on knees.

My camera is broken.  
Can you sing?  Where can I
hang my coat?  

The titmouse chitter
    before song.

The mad clap
    and wingstutter

of lifting pigeons,
    an asthmatic’s wheeze.

A line at the beer kiosk—
discourse in the past perfect,
the present imperfect.
Questions in the future indefinite.

He missed his love.
He brought with him.
The sun already set.
He wound up at the station.
An inopportune time.

“They beat you
because of your face,
not because of your passport.”

I have a few questions
of a personal nature:
Where is the toilet?
How many acts in this play?
What is the rate of exchange?
Where does this street lead?

When is my turn?
You come after the speaker from Bulgaria.
Who is speaking now?
Could you speak
even slower?

Prepositions governing
the accusative, the simple superlative
of adjectives.  The Moscow Metro
is a most punctual subway.
It is also most busy.  I’ve lost
my reflexive pronoun
many times among the
babushkas, bags, dacha bicycles,
drunks and dogs.

Would you like to see
Yury Gagarin’s spaceship?

Would you like to visit
the Exhibition of the National
Economic Achievements
of the U.S.S.R.?

At the metro entrance,
babushkas scolding
other people’s children,
someone selling fresh eggs,
pickled cukes, kittens in a coat,
and where the blast of cold
meets the metro heat,
the wordless pleading
of a blind pensioner.

Reticence of winter streets.

The constant stress of simple comparative:
ours, yours, ours, yours.

And in a dark stairwell, smell
of drying urine,
the light bulb stolen
again this week.

And in a dark stairwell,
a stone-drunk body.
Iambic steps now running up stairs,
the swear
of a slammed door.

And in a dark stairwell,
a cry—
she’s just learned the language
of rigormortis,
then teaches the drunk

the declensions
of an outraged woman’s fists.

If anyone asks for me,
I’m in Chapter Ten.

This is a label.  What is it?
A libel, a labia, a lust, alleluia.

And this?  A table.
Some bread and a plea.

What is it?
You are wanted on the phone.
There is no dial tone.
The telephone is out of order.
I’ll be waiting for your call.

Goodbye, dear friends.
I wish you every success.
Have a safe journey.
Please, stay.

Let me introduce myself.
I feel sick.
How much must I pay
for excess baggage?