Twenty-first Century Russian Poetry


Boris Ryzhy


Translated by Philip Nikolayev

In Memoriam: Boris Ryzhy (1974-2001)

* * *

"Got neither cash nor wine..."
- Adamovich

Let's walk, my friend, along an empty street
where frozen clementines of streetlamps hover
and snow covers the distance like a sheet
and all the stores have shut their doors forever.
Show windows, neon glow, ditches and pipes.
"It's all so gruesome, hopeless, literal.
And what do you, my friend, expect from life?" -
"Sadness: it's in the nature of the beautiful!"

All that being quite so, we pass black walls.
"What do you figure will happen to us tomorrow?"
A monstrous and eternal mannequin follows
us with two perfect eyeballs free of sorrow.
"Suppose he knows that storefront rose is dead,
or his own ugliness, or the world's fears?" -
"He knows that there is happiness, my friend,
yet you and I can't see it for our tears."

* * *

Yellow marble: a communist boy scout
with his bugle, or is it his coy snout,
in a foul city park in September
(falling foliage in what I'll remember)
where I roam as if dreaming, absurd
character in insoluble dreams
who feels bitter wherever he roams
in an era of tyrants and words.

The long vista looms desolate, dressed
in a nylon and emetic light.
Brother, what can this lowlife of a poet
say by way of a farewell tonight
as he brushes a leaf with his hand
from the face of a faceless boy scout?
Trusty bugler, we're beat, sound the lights out.
Play your part to the end.

To V.S.

We shall agree as follows: when I'm dead
you'll place a cross on my grave, and we'll know
between the two of us, friend, that though
it looks much like all other graveyard crosses,
it is in fact a signature: just as an illiterate
leaves a cross on paper, so I
would like to leave a cross in the world.

I wish to leave a cross. I was at odds 
with the grammar of life
and reading my destiny I understood
nothing. All I know and am used to
are blows, the kind that cause
letters to fall like teeth out of the mouth,
smelling of blood.

* * *

The township that I have dreamt up and populated,
personally setting the clouds afloat overhead,
is currently on the blink because it's affected
by the idea that life is short and then you're dead.

The music shuts down in spite of the eager singer,
the electrician's curses won't help the lamps light up,
the model appears progressively uglified in the mirror,
and all things turn to crap.

Relax, ladies and gentlemen, life continues,
all in flight and afloat, and that which you call me is
walking at ease down the autumn street while the breeze
shakes all the leaves behind me, straining its sinews.

To Oleg Dozmorov

Proprietor of the best bari, 
boxerii,  philologist and poet,
mighty as a wild Ryazan boar,
but highly subtle on the subject
of verse, receive this panegyric,
my brother elegiac and idyllic!

When you beat up on those poor waitersiii 
I wondered how it's possible
to have at least a dozen talentsiv, 
to own the hardest fist of all,
and, when deciding fight or flight,
to grab a length of pipe and fight.

They just kept yelling, "Stop it! Stop it!"
You, letting drop, "Thou shalt not steal,"
raged like an utter hellfire torrent
or a hurricane at full zeal;
you raged, my dearest friend, no less
than Tolstoy at the door of death.

Then you poured me a couple of pints
and brought some salted beer nuts
and sounded two or three stanzasv 
in the ensuing fearsome silence.
And you'll recall what I said to it:
I see again God and the poetvi! 

We have no method of foreknowing
the distant echoes of our wordsvii, 
yet life is fun nevertheless
and I'm again hell bent on going
to that sole bar in our whole nation
where I loll in good conversation.viii  

1 O. Dozmorov indeed owned a beer bar, although its precise name could not be ascertained. Nonetheless, the poet's great-grandson, in his most recent interview, to Poems and Poets magazine, said that the bar either had no name at all or was named "Chez Fyodor."
2 In fact, O. Dozmorov never trained in boxing, as can be learned from a glance at the poet's Memoirs: "<...> twenty seven years, a third of my life, were spent at the wrestling gym <...>." B. Ryzhy, on the other hand, was trained in boxing and, in a contemporary's apt phrase, "liked that sport so much that he was prone to call 'a boxer' anyone to whom he happened to take a liking, and subsequently believe it too!"
3 Allegations of his battery of those waiters were never officially confirmed.
4 O. Dozmorov was a splendid musician and also drew in tempera; moreover, see note number 2.
5 It is unknown what stanzas those are.
6 B. Ryzhy took especial pains over this couplet; roughly two hundred variants survive. As his wife reminisces, "<...> for a whole month, Borya was composing two especially important lines, having kicked me and the children out of the house for the duration <...>."
7 An allusion to F. I. Tyutchev's "We have no method to predict / How our word will resound, or where... / But, brethren, do we even care..."
8 Clearly a use of poetic license. "<...> the said Dozmorov's bar is perpetually filled with a din and a racket. Girls scream and guys guffaw. Cusses pile upon cusses. Two powerful cassette recorders are playing simultaneously, and everyone is dancing. My God, how I love this haunt of vice, where I am always awaited by my <...>" (from B. Ryzhy's diary).