Twenty-first Century Russian Poetry


Andrei Rodionov


Translated by Matvei Yankelevich

* * *  

Now, when the tenderness is palpable above the city, 
when kindness sings in your ear, barely audible, 
now, when the blast of that tenderness booms,  
like Hiroshima, my trusting city absorbs it all.  

How tender the asphalt, like a napkin, how this home, 
most tender, paneled, pastel and cold, touches the heart,  
just a little warmer than the previous house, the gray one, 
and this one is a little pink, tenderness behind each window.   

In slightly worn heels, spectacular tenderness enters, 
and softly, barely touching your head, caresses 
you and you with a dose of its snowy medicine, 
we'd never known Moscow to be so kind and so tender.  

Now the kindest of birds fly softly among us, 
waving to us like dead soft hands, forgiving us 
for every little thing, and these dim lights -the capital's 
upper-most tenderness-shine blandly for us.  

And suddenly this mumbled word - "degenerates." 
You hear it and tenderly think: "What was that?" 
Some nasties aren't happy to see us in the city, 
but how can they dislike us, and, really, for what? 

It's likely that machine that counts out your rides 
sees a zero on your crumpled card. Likely, that quiet man  
doesn't care for us - his fingers shine from the barrel, 
his badgered gaze glazes over with the vodka he's drunk.
Oh, all this hatred from vodka, from drinking vodka! 
From the vodka and the drunks and the girls greedy for cash! 
Oh, the bubbling of tenderness in these silhouettes 
in the darkness, of birds or amputated hands.  

We are the soldiers of this nighttime Moscow tenderness, 
we breath the exalted smoke and mint fire. 
And sometimes he also calls us "degenerates" -  
still we remember him with tenderness - the sad passerby.

* * *  

People of hopelessly antiquated professions 
joyfully raise their eyes, so recently full of tears. 
Down Tverskoy goes the procession to end all processions, 
the poets who are taken seriously.  

The poets walk into bars and banks, 
into the shoe store and bookstore, and everywhere 
in exchange for their sonnets, free verse and tankas 
they are offered drinks, grub, clothing, and footwear.  

All the people are happy - only the gays feel wronged: 
why are they allowed a parade, and we're not? 
They're allowed, because they are saying farewell, 
today they'll be going and never coming back.  

The people gather gaily at our Golgotha: 
here the most serious wordsmith will intone, 
and the ventri-loin-quist, one of the locals, 
will sing back-up for him with her loins:

"We filled all the cracks, all the lacunae, 
we smoothed out all the corners and glitches, 
we destroyed everything that can be strung 
and everywhere you can score a goal."  
Every year we bid them farewell, you won't hear a word 
before autumn, then little by little they fill up Moscow, 
but this time we'll place surveillance towers along the belt road - 
the mayor promises every time, but it's empty talk.  

While spiritually rich parents still have their children, 
while the rich aren't forbidden to multiply, 
these dickheads will have their audience, 
and that means the dark day is nigh.  

Some dance, others sing, others play the fool, 
"That's no effin' poetry at all," still others huff, 
yet down Tverskoy they walk, selling their poems 
for various useless and useful stuff.  
* * *  

Do you hear the silence? 
That's the provincial fish 
swimming in the waters below 
flapping their fins 
Good thing you can't  
hear their banter 
and from above it's quaint - 
they swim and keep silent  

A lot like the way this immense country whispers 
swimming by on the TV screen 
you speak to me in the voice of an anchorman 
to the rhythm of an underwater dream 
Auntie Manya's homeland  

in a voice that's slightly sarcastic, 
warning me: there, deep down 
is our real Homeland the ear bends with the weight of the grain 
and they sing songs, but you can't hear it, 
it's too far away  

Soundless provincial fish 
open their mouths that resemble zeroes 
and we might be able to hear it 
but so far we can't for some reason  

and we don't have a clue what they're saying 
down there, only sometimes our hooks 
snatch up some little goby 
or a marginal prickly bullhead  

even when he's flopping around on the line  
and opens his mouth 
you still can't hear what he's singing 
as you take the hook out  

so that's the way the water world works 
it'll be like that till we die, maybe forever 
and now, when there's air between us, 
all the same, it's still water, water