Twenty-first Century Russian Poetry


Bakhyt Kenjeev


Translated by J. Kates

. . . easy for me to grow old in a country I love,
where a young argonaut takes to the open road.
"Don't mind me," mutters the sleeper. "don't
wake me up," the dead man babbles to God,

"and don't be reckoning up my sins
behind my back." Medicinal amber
and agates insist: "You, too, will sail,
impoverished nomad, to the happy shore."

Province of mine, how you have fallen to ruin!
your bridges steep, your brickwork barren and hard.
"I too am a man," mumbles the living one, "I
not guilty, not holy, not pleasing to the Lord." 

* * *

How very much, it's likely, I will not
get to see. In childhood I thought everything
was subject to Soviet science, Sputnik, Laika,
then Gagarin, and after him Titov,
powerful humming mainframes
swallowing rolls of computer paper,
the TU-104 in a reactive sky,
polyester, transistors, slides, and corn in a can. 

Now, here I've grown up, and now I am given over
to a shameful melancholy, how wrongly
mistaken I was. Yes, wrong. I imagined 
amiable, blissful columns of chemists
and biologists in step one day, rejoicing,
along Red Square on November Seventh
brandishing recipes if not 
for eternal life, at least for happiness.

And yet on the street rock or rap. Teen-agers 
spit on death and eternity. And yes glory
to the creator. Sufficient unto the day
Is the evil thereof.  In youth we knew
not ecstasy, nor isoamylnitrate, 
And as for our girls, à  la Juliet,
it did not enter our heads to give in
to childish lust before marriage. 

Am I envious? My father didn't live
to see Skype, my grandfather radio, my great-
grandfather airplanes. What will I not 
live to see? I am informed of the decoding
of the Neanderthal genome. What happiness
that will be! Our new-born cousin
will weep salt tears, will smile - a pity
that I will know nothing of all that....


Time is humming at half strength, measured, imperceptible,
clearing out some, but leaving others untouched.
Close the skins of your eyes, as Platonov said, 
To keep from seeing its pupils, to keep from hearing its wind,

stop up your ears with oakum, your hands (for they are weary) -
wrap in scratchy woolen
mittens with knitted brown crosses.
the sense of touch is also a sin, because a name

(for the infant swaddling clothes, for the grown-up a shroud,
for the teenager hope, warm and young)
is the figure of pride, chiming with Russian time, but
from time immemorial fighting with it, in tears.