Twenty-first Century Russian Poetry


Sergey Gandlevsky


Translated by Philip Nikolayev

* * *

Sing me something of jail time, of parting,
With a sputter, a tear in the voice,
Kostroma and Kolyma we'll sing,
But with vodka, Vorkuta works nice:
Songs of how a young son one fine day
Is back home and his hair is all gray,
Drinks at Nina's more than he should,
Weeps a Kalva's. Have mercy, my Lord!

Here's our train station. Faithful to form,
Drainpipes lisp us their intimate thoughts. 
Folks are singing their grief on the platform.
Cars with convicts roll by, bound east.
Men, grain and strategic type freight
cross our motherland's face day and night.
Sing me a tear-jerker, a heartbreak, a fright.
You will find I'm no snob in my tastes.

In the fall, come out into the field,
Chill your brow with the wind of your land,
Feeling alcohol's hot rose unfold
In your chest, in your heart, to expand,
While a raven like type of drab night
Wings above you, while distances howl.
The Motherland Cares for All. Right.
Which might also explain why you feel

As if just awakened one rainy morning
And the cage slams, they bring in your grub.
You shrug off all your stupid hoping,
Being led in your underclothes. Far off,
Goosebumps rise upon the pond's glass,
A semaphore can't find its shine.
It is drizzling with rain. An unshaven pedestrian 
Talks to himself as he walks.

* * *

Standing trial by one's sudden maturity
Is a circus of dubious charm
Rather lacking the normative purity
Of a walk by a brook, true to form,
Whilst reflecting in rhyme. Nope, a muteness
Haunts my bloodstream. So, have we received,
Dear grammarians, this very minuteness
As our top lift of joy, gift of gifts?

Russian poetry's custom of life is
Smashing mirrors in stark self-disgust.
What is more, guess where our kitchen knife is.
In the drawer of the writing desk.
Scruffy gent in a pigeon-shat hat
In a WWII-captured trumeau,
Spare me torment by creative thirst.
Who could know it is so life would go?

It was first like a skiff or a rowboat
Or a sparrow on an empty hammock.
Look, is this a parrot? No, a robot.
ABCs in a female hand,
A primer of all that which love is,
Creaking oars on the dacha pond.
Licking a scratch who runs to your voice 
and arms? I'll yield you to no one!

It became a yoke, hurt and jealousy,
And the tune has all spilled drop by drop,
Now I moo and miaul xerophagously,
My poor brain in a two-handed grip.
Why was I to inherit this legacy:
Someone's mask, ambiguous lips?
Life, a tragedy in one act.
A fool in dialogue with a philosophist.
Fickle, finicky music, most kindly
Do explain to me, once I am dead,
Why you grimaced aloofly, unfriendly,
At that party one night without end
But still tortured the sleepy teenager
With the cruelest pain that you knew?
It's a robot? A parrot, sly stranger!
And I hope for no mercy from you.