Twenty-first Century Russian Poetry


Dmitry Kuzmin


Translated by Misha Semenov

father squatted down on the porch and clicked his lighter.
i thought for a bit, then dropped down beside him, giving up on spotless white jeans.
over on the right, a cat snoozed on a stack of wood, incredibly furry,
generously seasoned with little bits of sawdust,
across from us, shrunken in all her ninety-six years,
a grandmother drowned in her beach chair,
looking like mickey mouse with her oversized headphones,
fiddling with the dials of her radio set,
over to the left, past the hedge of phlox, a pair of aspens shivered,
and a small trail led off to an abandoned raspberry patch.
<<yesterday,>> father looked over to the right and took a drag,
"he brought in a squirrel, already suffocated.
looked like a young one, this summer's brood.
i almost cried: i feel sorry for it, it's a squirrel, after all.
<<well, yeah,>> i answered.
<<for him it's nothing but a rat, basically, just with a tail>>
and i suddenly had this sharp feeling that this
episode wasn't part of my life, that this
was some american movie from the middle of the
60's, say, a hemingway story: in the early morning 
on the lake sitting in the stern of the boat with his father rowing, 
nick felt quite sure that he would never die
but no, the scene's all been filmed now, since the sentiments no longer need to be concealed.
and, it seems, i even know the contents of the previous installment:
it was with that same feeling in a half-assed rathole
by the hamburg railway station, rented for three hours before dawn,
that i latched with with my clenched teeth onto little jose's chocolate nape,
when jason, coal-black, screwed out my nipples with fingers of iron.

* * *

Why, you ask,
will they all-
the pair of waiters from Fuggerstrasse,
a blonde and a mulatto, but both with that same complicated piercing,
and that well-shaved guy over there with the poodle,
examining camo shorts in the store window,
and that energetic grandfather in a raincoat, parking
his bike by the antique shop,
and that girl at the crosswalk wearing knee-highs,
making out with a boy at the green,
and at the red juggling awkwardly between the cars,
and our new love from yesterday,
which a whole night later still can't decide between you and me,
why will they all stay,
while we leave?
Don't grieve, my darling,
sure, we'll leave,
but we'll come back, as often as we like:
first by airplane and train,
later by hopes and dreams,
later by drizzle with the western wind.

* * *

sunny morning Vasya clad in heel-length terry towel
from the windowsill, the mandarin bush stretches out its branches to him
the house across the street dawns orange before his eyes
a pack of crab sticks and coffee without sugar for breakfast
(sugar isn't to the true Macho's taste)
"With love from Fyodor" written on the mug
and a little bunny with a giant butcher's knife
Fyodor grins silently from his corner
twirls the new skull ring on his finger
takes aim for the pastry with the most cream
Lerik in his silk pajama stern in his just-awakened state
prepares a steam omelet steeps a tea of complicated composition
sprinkles the hoyplant grumbles crumbs on the tablecloth again
again you Fyodor go for it without a spoon too scared to ask
Seva and Kirill tumble out from the bath
riled up by an argument over the elimination of the death penalty
Kirill's nose smothered with Seva's special cream
strictly pure and natural and helpful against every ailment out there
including but not limited to the spots of acne visible only to Kirill himself
the dispute drowns out at the news of further plans
for some the Infanté retrospective for some role playing in World of Darkness
Lerik clears a space on the table for the teapot
moves the vase with Vasya's roses over and smiles for the first time
you know, if you just imagine that you and I no longer exist,
I'd rather be more or less looking at all this from somewhere up above, wouldn't you?

Translated by Yulia Idlis

Had a dream about two lovers' letters:
The last grade, the middle of the eighties;
Identical round handwriting (did one of them make a copy? For me?)
Winter and spring letters written because of the feelings too strong
Summer ones - separated during the vacations
The last letter is from her, explaining the cause of the breakup
...always about yourself, about what excites you;
You had once written you liked Estonian jazzmen -
I subscribed to "Estonia Today" for three months to learn something about them
(such an edition could hardly exist, and what would it feature about jazz anyway?),
You wrote about your devotion to trams and trolleys,
And I could do nothing about it...
She should have taken the epigraph to this letter:
I would thou wert cold or hot.
I wish I received letters about trams and Estonian jazzmen.
Self-excuses of the one who leaves - the one who's already made the decision -
Are always somewhat beside the mark.
I'm reading it all in a train, in an empty carriage, and miss my stop;
The knapsack gets stuck in the luggage box, there is no emergency brake to be seen,
A yellow inexpressive landscape is speeding in the window.
It's somewhere around here that I was to meet you;
The picture disintegrates, the wave sways away, leaves, one can't fine-tune the station,
Time to get up; "Sesame Street" on TV next door,
My neck and chest ache (it's either yesterday's hickeys or the beginning of flu);
Never, never again will I be seventeen.