Lev Mak Looks Back from Venice Beach

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is surfers-venice-carol-m.-highsmith.jpg

Photography by Carol M. Highsmith

Among the few — the very few — positive memories I have from the month that followed the launch of Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine, the most heartwarming may be of an online event hosted by the Wende Museum and moderated by my good friend Sasha Razor. That event gave me the chance to meet and read with one of my Odessan (and Angeleno!) idols, the poet Lev Mak, whose life story I outlined here, with a couple of representative verses. As I mentioned in that earlier post, Lev had more than one run-in with the KGB in our native Odessa, and the last of these led to his exile — an exile that eventually landed him in Venice, California, where he lives in a house overlooking the ocean.

The lyric below, from 2004, sees Lev reflecting on his life in opposition to all oppressive forces. I love his identification with the surfers beneath his balcony, whom he sees not as blissful slackers but as ant-like warriors fighting against the odds — Davids who snidely take on the oceanic Goliath just as he had taken on the authorities back in Soviet Ukraine. Lev might have lost that last battle in Odessa, but as he says here, the loss opened up new possibilities. He’s not one to give up, and I have a feeling his sands will keep on flowing for a good long time.

From the Balcony

Six surfers run towards the shore
like ants bearing the wings of bees,
clipped cleanly from their mortal foe.

They lie atop these wings they bore
and row — how skillfully they tease
the water, trampling frenzied foam.

So I once teased the KGB.

That wave smacked me against the beach,
but in the end it helped me reach
America. It set me free.

I grow old in contempt of laws,
my life split evenly in two,
and watch the ocean rolling blue.

Sand trickles down my hourglass.

July 16, 2004


С балкона

Шесть серфингистов, сбегающих к пляжу,
Напомнили колонну муравьев,
Несущих крылья пчел, врагов своих.

Они ложатся на свою поклажу,
Гребут, и ярость пенистых валов
Дразнят внезапным попираньем их…

Так я дразнил когда-то КГБ.

Волна меня ударила о берег
И помогла открытию америк,
А с ней европ, и азий, и т.п.

Прожив полжизни там, полжизни тут,
Состарившись в презрении к закону,
Смотрю на Тихий океан с балкона.

Песочные часы мои текут.

16 июля 2004

4 thoughts on “Lev Mak Looks Back from Venice Beach

    1. Thank you, dear Kaggsy! A great conclusion, yes. And there’s a neat formal trick here: the poem is an inverted Petrarchan sonnet, with two rhymed tercets followed by two envelope rhymed quatrains, so it’s a bit of an hourglass turned upside down.

      Liked by 2 people

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