P O E M S

P R O S E

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


 

 

 

 

The following translations most recently appeared in Crossing Centuries: The New Wave in Russian Poetry, a new anthology of contemporary Russian poetry in English translation from Talisman House, Publishers. For more information about the anthology, visit the Talisman House website at www.talismanpublishers.com

 

 

     12:44 a.m.

    "Send me an Angel..." 

    "Iron swans fly..." 

    Hymn to Polystylistics

    "When the other man..."

    "Talking to my little pumpkin..."

    "In Russia it was always..."

    Still-Life

    "I've got a bottle of wine..."

    Special Troikas (Section S)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

    12:44 a.m.

 

At last they climb under the covers together

to listen to the music of Schnittke

 

The tedious uncertainty of the first

then the second third & all of the following measures

including the measure of human relations all these empty fifths & flickering

thirds going small smaller smallest

twitterings & tremblings these on & off scrapings & squintings

 

Drawing back the arm as if about to strike

he unexpectedly yawns an absent-minded one yet intently staring

at his lonely & protruding forefinger which hovers in a stupor over

the glass tray where a puddle is crawling away increasing its biological

activity The puddle goes zhzhzhzhzhzhzhzhzhzhzh

& just then a complete silence

this sound of his button unraveling from his shirt

falling pensively into the abyss Bbbbbbbbb Yyyyyyyy Ssssssss

 

Three blind men go groping along the rough stone wall

rhythmically tapping from time to time with little reflex hammers

tchk tchk tchk

 

What is this opus called?

Shut up Don't interfere

 

Black shadows are falling on Iscariot's sacrificial glade

irrigated with the urine & puke of the innocent kid

who sometime later was also executed

 

A delicate & thin vessel covered with mother of pearl perspiration

is filled with soft-boiled bluebells

 

Priam she says

subtly stroking rhythmically opening & closing her palm

around the rubber night-stick In my mind it's high time we set out for

the Chinese restaurant There everything's pre-prepared & after all

up to this point at least they still do it with wooden chopsticks

 

Hearing this he gets a rush & a chill in his gut

although he knows perfectly well that the chopsticks are more than likely

not wooden but plastic if not worse

 

They lean out of the trench up to their waists attentively examining

the Chinese man sitting in one of the boxes behind the composer

who has the opened newspaper "Utrennie Zaryadki" spread across his knees

colored electrodes in his ears but there's a snake

instead of a tie around his neck Clear signs of petrification are noticeable in  
                                                                                                              his figure

Satisfied they climb back under the covers & give themselves over

to the exhausting applause

 

A ball of cotton wool of medium size encrusted with something that looks like

    AGO 
nitrocellulose glue has fallen beneath the armchair & hardened & turned into       
  
druse teasing

the imagination with its refined & dried-up shine

 

Priam she says

having suddenly cast aside the blanket & frankly admiring the trembling bow

the streamlined power & smoothness of each viola & violin

making up the chamber orchestra

O Priam

 

One careless slip of the knee & the nearby music-stand to the left

will come crashing down on them The universe plunges into darkness

for an unspecified time & meanwhile the notes hail down in a torrent

& quickly crawl across the bed like black leeches with little white heads

biting & sucking wherever they see fit with loathsome importunity

They gather them up with great effort in heaps of fifteen & arrange them

on a cardboard field for a game of backgammon

 

The effect is astonishing

 

B-sharp demands immediate satisfaction from C-flat at the same time

as CNN curses out the National Radio Broadcast over the air waves

& the Black Sea fleet reels from side to side & the tenant below

complains that there's seepage in the corner again The Good Old Days

shuffle barefoot in place on the ice-floe going slow but sure into an open mouth

 

ENOUGH BITCHING

can be heard from the grand podium of the honorable gathering

it's time to do the deed

the echo responds from the right & the left from below & above

in the room & in the kitchen in Moscow & in the suburbs

on the surface & in the deep on earth & in heaven

 

Encouraged by these parting words they crawl under the covers

& get down to it

  

Translated by John High, Patrick Henry and Katya Olmsted

Copyright by Nina Iskrenko, 1995. All rights reserved.

 

 

* * *

 

Send me an Angel O Lord an Angel

In the morning I'll rise & go to the window

Let it notice me alone

Absolutely alone Without Angels

 

Send me an executor of Your will

& not simply rain

White with long locks & wings

& not simply rain mixed with snow

Difficult getting through the rain

otherwise he'd arrive in a flash

Though in rain or snow bearings blur amid our apartment blocks

they all look alike

An angel won't distinguish me among thousands

 

But by the way if its a bright sunny day

maybe the glass will flare up

you tell it Don't hurry No worry

And tell me what to wear

 

Or I'll wear myself out with worry Whatever I pull out nothing passes muster

He'll take fright Won't instantly discern my refinement and depth in these                                                          black contours

In general it won't see a person here at all

In general Who is this Angel? Not a man I hope?

 

I hope that here the white it's flying on

won't spoil or melt even outside the fridge

Well, send it a bit earlier

because my alarm clock

lights up real early

 

An electric clock that hardly ticks

Let me I'll hear the moment this whiteness smelling of chrysanthemum

                                                                                 rustles as the angel nears

& the binary oscillations of the meditation's distance

like birds will hurl minor sixths & thirds in the air

like soap bubbles of fearlessness and abstinence

 

eveeening saaacrifiiice

 

Peace O Lord But a private peace domestic vigorous

ask it to bring all this in its bosom Nothing heavy

Let it wrap me in fragrant gauze white chrysanthemum

Beige insides like a piece of the bread's inner moistness

 

Like the bread's inner moistness everything's stuck together inside me

O Lord Soon it will be three But yet no appearance

My time flows through a tea strainer slowly flows drop by drop

I hold up the measuring cup measure by drops

                                                                          And it's already dark outside

 

I just stand by the window Hold back the curtain with my hand

Well of course I don't hang around all day & not every

minute There's the warmth of a family hearth to extract from a subtle ray

swans to shake from my sleeve a moon to kindle beneath my plait & teeth to

                                                                                                            brush

mellifluous veins to tie into bouquets & bunches

I've nearly learned how by now nearly

& they're bringing me mail & brewing

foreign teas beneath lampshades

Soon soon arriving I'll tell it

I'll tell it for sure You see I'll say

a cordial star burns beneath a blue sky

It's yours O my Angel always yours

you see you see the untwinkling light ineffable kindness

Yes my prayer will be mended, as a thurible before you: lifting up my hand,

evening sacrifice

Translated by John High and Patrick Henry

Copyright by Talisman House, Publishers, 2000. All rights reserved.

 

  * * *

For I. Shulzhenko

 

Iron swans fly soundlessly from beneath

the brows of the drunk women

Sweetly peering into each other's eyes

pressing cautious careful gestures

on the other's lachrymal glands

Their knees pulled taut together

 

wild bees stiffen in the flight & the night its dampness the honey oozes

over the skirt hems

 

Honey & milk & gasoline spilling

from these empty canisters now overturned

& the drunk women (nymphs hydrangeas caryatids

agaves asters)

release white mice from their heavy leaden

quotation marks

catching with the backs of their heads the lifesaver

of daily routines

 

Gathering them all up the white mice & vipers & garden snakes

the tame lizards

up into their starched breast-plates

& having abruptly cast their faces upward having fastened the millstone

                                                                                          to the hair & wheels

& having embraced the drunken women now enter the other's

vineyard

profiles of rapacious fledglings fox cubs foxes

                                                                                           intently following

 

Drunk wives walking the vineyard sucking & gnawing

                                                                        feverish in the gnashing of teeth

ripping the fresh wounds & the wailing as

this dense hot ball shatters the garden barriers

                                                                                          the vineyard walls

 

Rolling off the cliff entangled in the blackthorn & sedge

                                                                   the vile stench of the pond's scum

their clothes & combs cast off for the wild dogs

to devour

in this turbid rapture its trembling & astonishment

in this overfulfilled battle felt behind them

 

Saturated wicked naked gigantic nostrils blown out

like coral sails

the drunk women's silent cries enter the empty

triangle of love

the honorable ownership & higher

education

Smoking slow & sweetly peering

into each other's eyes

 

Translated by John High, Patrick Henry and Katya Olmsted

Copyright by Nina Iskrenko, 1995. All rights reserved.

 

 

 

Hymn to Polystylistics

 

Polystylistics     is when a knight from the Middle Ages

wearing shorts

storms into the wine section of store #13

located on Decembrists' Street

& cursing like one of the Court's nobles

he drops his copy of Landau & Lifshitz's "Quantum

Mechanics" on the marble floor

 

Polystylistics     is when one part of a dress

made of Dutch linen

is combined with two parts

of plastic & glue

and in general the remaining parts are missing altogether

or dragging themselves along somewhere near

the rear end while the clock strikes & wheezes

& a few guys look on

 

Polystylistics     is when all the girls are as cute

as letters

from the Armenian alphabet comopsed by Mesrop     
                                    Mashtoz

& the cracked apple's

no greater than any one of the planets

& the children's sheet music is turned upside down

as if in the air it would be easier to breathe like this

& something always humming

                                                                                         & buzzing

just over the ear

 

Polystylistics     is a kind of celestial aerobics

observed through the torn backpack's

back flap

it's a law

of cosmic instability

& some stupid play

on the 'F' word

 

Polystylistics     is when I want to sing

& you want to go to bed with me

& we both want to live

forever

 

After all how was everything constructed

if this is how it's all conceived

How was everything conceived

if it's still waiting to be constructed

And if you don't care for it

well then it's not a button

And if it's not turning

don't dare turn it

 

No no unearthliness exists on earth

no pedestrian blushed as a piece of lath

Many sleep in leather & even less

                                        than a thousand maps are talking about the war

 

Only love

like a curious grandmother

running bare-legged & Fyodor Mikhailovich Dostoevsky

could not hold back from shooting a glass of Kindzmarauli wine

to the health of Tolstoy the fat boy riding through his home town

Semipalatinsk on a screeching bicycle

 

In Leningrad & Samara it's 17-19 degrees

 

In Babylon it's midnight

 

On the Western Front there are no changes

 

Translated by John High, Patrick Henry and Katya Olmsted

Copyright by Nina Iskrenko, 1995. All rights reserved.

 

 

 

* * *

 

When the other man

strips off

& spreads apart

When the other hands

close around a spine

The child's yet to sleep

a pair of binoculars

& a Good Evening

the flimsy armor

of these paperback endings

 

The nausea

that comes from our expectations

A face passing

skidding over the collar bone

with the other hair

Tell Me Something Else

drops from the tree tops

like a three-kopeck piece in the park

into a frosted-over pond

 

Lips extinguish a candle

inside burning of the shoulder blades & spine

the other man

caught up in the luck of it

& the unopened eyes unwillingly untwisting the globe

of the other memories & the pillow's weaving protrudes

& the shoes' soles press sand & pine trees stoop &

hug the needles & rings: the ball & chain

almost indissoluble & an ear roots in the mouth

& the sky lying in the nearby square is scarcely

breathing

 

The one & the same old age

hangs from a lamp shade

the one & the same old idiocy

grows on a bush

 

When the other man

sits there in the other armchair

& the other head folds inward

in this contemplation

of you

 

Translated by John High, Patrick Henry and Katya Olmsted

Copyright by Nina Iskrenko, 1995. All rights reserved.

 

 

* * *

 

Talking to my little pumpkin

who was wearing that blue hanky I bought her

going the whole way down Pirogov Street

 

saying Rita what'd you say we get out of here

I'll get us a little duplex somewhere

Honey you'll have plenty of shoes

 

We'll buy a striped rug

You'll eat oranges

It's pretty there It's the North

 

Pressing up against his little potato bear

brushing those pretty locks from her eyes

saying Let's split move away

 

and not another drop more I promise

Let this drunkenness

rot Rita

 

Telling her this is the last drunk but

The cigarette fell into his mouth

The corner market closed

 

Touching her savage & forceful then

crushing the cookies in her tiny bag

spitting unprintably (something or other)

 

& on & on they went into this lawful matrimony

toward all the misfortunes behind them & acrid pants

floating side by side

 

Oh those Russian brown cows

the blue stools

of Maslovka-Taganka

 

Translated by John High, Patrick Henry and Katya Olmsted

Copyright by Nina Iskrenko, 1995. All rights reserved.

 

* * *

 

In Russia it was always possible to bum a smoke

get a hit of booze by a doorway with fuck written all over it

then pick the handful of dahlia from the flower bed nearby Fly away

for a Saturday with an old friend from childhood

to the Black Sea Where meeting on the street

you could finish off the affair in a public toilet

 

Always a field moving toward abundance in our mood

& a tangible love both to the rear as well as to the breasts

LOVE'S NOT A GAME!

graffitied with chalk on the wall

the way along the depths of the building's 6th entry way

In Russia you could always kill a man

& wipe the blood in the dirt

on the grass

on a birch tree

 

A place where the hospitable conscience always thrashes

& the fruits' first seed condemns its own people

    to sacrifice

a country all the angels turned their backs on

a long time ago, maybe

 

& all the chimney sweeps threw themselves into the good work

In Russia before you lost yourself

it was always with freedom & ease

                                         that you could head off & bum a smoke

 

Translated by John High, Patrick Henry and Katya Olmsted

Copyright by Nina Iskrenko, 1995. All rights reserved.

 

 

Still-Life

 

Saturated with agile flames

the carafe's color

flows down

the table's curved plane

 

In contrast the pale & asymmetrical

wine glass is pinned

at the fulcrum

 

And movement's sucked itself

into the armchair's woolen cavity

after leaving beyond its limits

a tiny bouquet of cast-off fingers

looming over the night's smoking shadow

in a mirroring ashtray

 

that's cold & estranged

in the digital clock's

moonlight

  

Translated by John High, Patrick Henry and Katya Olmsted

Copyright by Nina Iskrenko, 1995. All rights reserved.

 

 

* * *

 

I've got a bottle of wine

While you're a parasite with absolutely nothing

Tovarishch you've only got THE FRONT'S BRIGADE stamped

on your pants So it's hip & that's all & so your flat's being remodeled

Why the hell do I need these so-called

happy endings

 

I've got big dreams

While trash like you prefers a load of gravel

Mon ami your mother-in-law's in Perm

& you're roaming about your own head & then there's that pimple on your back

or more precisely a bit lower

 

I've got... Well I've got my whole life before me

While a switchblade in the chest is all you've got my sweet corpse

Just a hole in the chest a bit higher than the nipple

You can peek at the sky through a peephole

& there you'll find the clouds swimming by the clouds

Everything's clouds

Whether you choose to peek or not

 

Translated by John High, Patrick Henry and Katya Olmsted

Copyright by Nina Iskrenko, 1995. All rights reserved.

 

 

 

Special Troikas (Section S)

 

+ + +

 

There go three boys

& where do you think they're headed?

Why    to a demonstration

 

+ + +

 

There's a big one for sure

All puffed up & flushed

Look     now it's about to spit

 

+ + +

 

So let the thing spit

& then he'll leave you alone

You really think so?

 

+ + +

 

There's some herring on the table

Only thirty grams of herring in the herring itself

The rest is all    Soul

 

+ + +

 

Here's a fine fellow

He offers me a decent sum

The others want it for free

 

+ + +

 

It's a fine evening

Bare groves     scythed fields

The whole columbarium in blossom

 

+ + +

 

Here's a little riddle for the blind

Is it uncle or auntie you find?

Here's the sunrise

 

+ + +

 

Here's the spot where the crocodile died

Here he lived    & lived    & lived

Then he died

 

+ + +

 

Here you'll find the convincing end

Of a tragic epoch

Here's the scented stench of official debates

 

+ + +

 

Here's a hanky

You not only can keep a good man down

You can stuff it down his throat

 

+ + +

 

Here comes winter again

 

+ + +

 

Outside now it's autumn

 

+ + +

 

& now summer

 

+ + +

 

A kind gnome brought us perfume

A package of rice    cigarettes   

Matches    earrings    a crucifix

 

+ + +

 

TASS    Interfax    Reuters    PostFactum    CNN

Into the honorable meeting-room (& in general, everything

should be honorable)    Ready    Aim    Fire Again!

 

+ + +

 

Where are you headed big bad wolf

Sick & tired of negative affection

Suffering from all that nervous aggression

 

+ + +

 

You & me    well not really

Well    maybe for awhile    Maybe    A Little Bit

But everything said & done    not really

 

+ + +

 

Where are you headed big bad wolf

Why are you looking toward the forest

What's in the forest for you

 

+ + +

 

When he met his woman

Such great bosoms

He went crazy after seeing them

 

+ + +

 

Here's a strong cold shower for you

            it's fuckin' refreshing you know

            absolutely, something rather peculiar    perhaps

 

+ + +

 

There flies the wicked witch

& what's the hitch?

You'll die    but she'll never grow old

 

+ + +

 

Her brassiere transmitter is askew    but her pulse is perfect

A tank full of inspiration

& the broom's working ok    by the way

 

+ + +

 

Here comes winter again

Outside now it's autumn

& now summer

 

+ + +

 

What do they call you now?

Lady Hamilton?  The dappled hag?

Or simply     horizon?

 

+ + +

 

Ha    & what's this?

Why    it's the tax inspector

There he goes inspecting    our shit

 

+ + +

 

Where are you headed big bad wolf

We're already waiting

Do drop in

 

+ + +

 

We're not afraid of New Year's Day

Christmas    Epiphany    Easter

We don't even fear the Judgment Day

 

+ + +

 

We only have fear itself to fear

& what a horrible fear

We're only fearful of it only

 

+ + +

 

Here comes winter again

A package of rice    the bare groves

Or simply    the horizon

 

+ + +

 

There's someone coming down the hill

Smiling, looking through the metal eye-slit     why,

It's my darling in an armored personnel carrier.

 

 

Translated by John High, Patrick Henry and Katya Olmsted

Copyright by Nina Iskrenko, 1995. All rights reserved.