Twenty-first Century Russian Poetry


Ilya Kukulin


Translated by Matvei Yankelevich

		to Sergei Moreno

	"And aren't you sick of it, muse..."
		- Vladimir Narbut (written in camp)

It may seem funny,
but there are contemporary Russian poets
with similar Jewish surnames:
Gandelsman, Gandlevsky, Gondelman...
Actually, Gondelman (who's Gregory, in Riga)
they say has quit writing poems.
According to Sergei Moreno, he works at a bank
and goes around in a black suit.
If the Soviet Union comes again, with its watchtowers and camps,
the terror and joy of the empire
(catching up to us these days like the sweet pain of coming down off a high),
it'll be fine, he'll be just fine:
he'll be sent to the camps where he'll start writing again,
he'll be broken, get sick, and he'll perish,
and posthumously he'll become an object of research,
a beloved idol, a god of dissertations.
So it's alright, let him live as he does,
walking around Riga to the bank,
let him live on in peace,
poetry will get over it by and by.

* * *

		I	if this is not a garden,
			if the frames squeak
			because it's never been so dark...
					-Olga Sedakova

			It's good to be alive.
					-Dmitry Kuzmin

Can it be that only one joy is left-
in the fact that we'll meet again
	at a table already set, in a garden of paradise trees?
Is it really paradise-perhaps it's just the childhood we've been awaiting.

And only youth can withstand
that which from without
tears the soul to shreds,
asking if-save for death, lack of faith, attachment, and thirst-
there's nothing?

What will I say to my youth,
how to console it,
how to dress it,
so that it's worthy of sitting with you?

So, I'll say, my dear youth,
conceited, mistrustful, and talented,
look-it's not all there is.

And the fruits of paradise aren't paradise themselves.
(Are those the branches of paradise showing through in the long dusk hours?
Perhaps it's mother's womb?)

To be ready for loss-that's not all there is to it.
And loss itself.
It's NOT a youth's privilege
to live nearby death,
nearby the table set for a wake,
nearby the sword stuck into the earth,
or an oar, or a propeller, perhaps.

"He has arrived where he's been headed all along."

To feel the impossibility of bearing death-I don't know whose privilege that is.
Probably the girls that went to school with us. 

(Maybe, its the privilege of that girl over there in the subway.
Even still my eyes latch on to every girl's bangs.
Or every crack, or every virgin, in short. But this is no privilege.)

Death doesn't come up with a narrative.
Death isn't the end to anything,
it's a stop and a destruction that's always ahead,
a latent leftover of life that disperses down other sleeves (or channels).

I'm still young, I think, I'm still young.
This means nothing. We are next to each other.

	The white moon skips up and down in the train window, a white, white moon.
	The horrible sound rings out-the wheels striking the rail.
	Zhukovsky's ballad, "The Forest King," comes to mind.
	The machine of horror churns out metaphors obediently.
	I do not want to be a dead infant, I want to be alive.