Twenty-first Century Russian Poetry


Yuly Gugolev


Translated by Matvei Yankelevich

 * * *
What's for dinner? 
Dinner's not ready, 
I won't try to reason. 
There's no soy. 
No soup either. 
No buckwheat even.  

I'm not the best man 
to coddle you, feed you, 
indulge your every wish. 
You listen to me, lend 
your ear, dear undead, 
how it's gonna be,  

life with you, 
how can I say it, 
no, it ain't sweet, 
heating the soup, 
frying the soy,
cooking the buckwheat.  


* * *
"So what are we going to do with you?!" 
asked the holy father, "What...?"  

Let me tell you how it all happened, 
what in hell made me do it- 
it just had to be in the holiday season, 
I didn't know which way to turn:  

I had to go away on business- 
of all things! 
not so bad! 
folks have had it worse!- 
to far away lands, as they say, 
in the direction of the proud and gray, 
northern, sun-drenched, ferocious- 
why should I say any more- 
what do you care? Kazbek or Elbrus? 
the important thing: it's east of Rostov, 
and, mainly, to the south of Stavropol; 
and most of all, that every man come home.  

All this happened just last spring. 
I was determined not to get cold feet, 
so, as it happened to be Holy Week, 
I thought I'd square away the past- 
(and what's cowardly about that?  
it's clear, good common sense, is it not?)- 
and I prayed. With fervor, or without? 
"Lord, grant me just these wishes three,  
Dear Lord, oh God, the Holy Trinity..."  

Did my noble impulse please our Lord? 
At least, I hope so; though I'm good for war 
though only as an' non-combatant... 
In peace time I'm no use at all. 
I've never served in the military forces.  
Just thought I'd mention that because  
the strict priest eyed me closely,  
like a saint, though in a paternal way, of course.  

This holy father conjured in my mind 
images of elders, of the fairy-tale stock, 
the kind that knew their Aramaic  
but could put the filth and scum in line 
more like sergeants in the army.  

You could tell the shepherd knew his flock.
He called me over. I went, stumbling 
and, at the same time, with a saunter, 
more like a frightened fumbling, 
but I decided firmly, I would shout 
before the honest folk-let those two 
women standing too close hear me out.  

"Mea culpa! I'm sorry, I repent! 
My favorite sin is gluttony. I can't  
live even a day without it, but 
from this day forward I renounce it.  

Moreover, I've got conditions to abide, 
and I'll follow those from now on... 
I'll reject wrath and wallowing ennui,  
love of silver, empty talk, and pride.  

If we don't quit embodying in us 
negligence toward work and prayer, 
we might not be called for that final war, 
or worse, be transferred into the reserves.  

The time's at hand! The battle's near! 
It's already at the boiling point! 
And what are we doing about it? 
Superstition, blasphemy, idolatry-  

that's what many are about these days! 
This path will ruin us I say! 
DaVinci's Code's  already written! 
We can't dally or we'll be smitten!  

Blood of Christ, and His Holy Body!..." 
I was nearly barking by the end. 
The adrenaline was pumping through me. 
I couldn't stop myself, and then: 
"I've gotta drive the devil from my life!!"  

"Well, well, so what are we going  
to do?" the holy father asked again. 
"Shall we make of you a human being?!"