Twenty-first Century Russian Poetry


Alexei Tsvetkov


Translated by the author


one more thing she says remember that curious notion of theirs they believe for some reason that they will live ever after and that the cats and the butterflies on the contrary die for good they believe she says that there is someone who owes them some of them even know precisely the sum total of this debt but we are something different she says yes i agree completely different for some reason with us it is we will never know why and it's ok so we keep walking in the tall grass where cats are chasing butterflies and leap catching with their paws only the empty bright air the butterflies laugh silently the cats smile in response another wonderful day of the unexpected eternity except for those ashes grinding on our teeth

the quiet ones

in a recurring dream i find myself
stuck in a tiny town a green and neat
affair the locals scarce and studiously silent
for the most part avoid me and stay indoors
although i dwell among them i assume
myself to be a thing apart the town
is strangely shorn of outskirts there's a river
flowing from north to south and the main street
cutting across with a bridge in the middle
yet both are terminated in oblivion

beset by this conundrum i've come up
with a hypothesis perhaps the locals
are candidates to be born on earth that never
made up their minds about the matter shaped
in human form already but afraid
to take the plunge hedging their bets and this
is what the actual limbo is like the river
forever runs on the road likewise but both
resolve themselves into the void the locals
would find it pointless to wake up their green
and tidy town remains the same no matter
whichever side of the retina it's on
the quiet ones within their silent walls 
what do they want of us they share no subject
with us to serve them as a starting point
for striking up a palaver

it looks
like a half-way house perhaps a railway station
but with the waiting crowd resigned to the tracks
having been dismantled so that no train will ever
stop here they look alive but never having
been actually exiled to our vale of grief
there is no way for them to share our joy
the only thing they envy us in earnest
is death denied to the unborn it is
a mystery for them and a temptation
and i remaining stubbornly asleep
fall into a confusion like a rabbit
teasing a python on the eve of being
consumed by the above and peeking under 
death's skirts then part of me awakens i
recall the other's name but hush it up

the mirror

without fail our thoughts in these vexing times
are with the emperor lonesome in his icy
palace sunk in his unremitting silence

a spy was trampled at the jasper gate
the eastern garrison has run out of rice
one hears of a decree to round up and
butcher young maidens for the soldiers' stew
i give it little faith although the neighbor's
youngest's been missing two nights in a row

the new servant took off was gone till midnight
came back without his cap reeking of wine
the jurchen are within the walls he says 
and at the plaza by the pearl shrine blood
was ankle-deep glistening like a black mirror
he's been too insolent of late the steward
must be requested to apply the rod
those jurchen are just a ruse for their ilk

a visit from the venerable yi
his brittle sheets of tang calligraphy
obtained from a bookseller for a trifle
trifle indeed but who would want to hurt
a friend i had them fetch some wine and plums
the last of the old stock but it was worth it
never an evening was so full of mirth
on his way back the venerable yi
was torn out of his litter thrushed to death
with canes those jurchen nothing but a ruse

a conflagration this time in the west
the guards will have their work cut out for them
curse the old gown all matted and it's cold
should have dispatched them to stock up on brushwood
but there's no one to send and none for sale
how splendid is the moon in the black velvet
of the night sky in the black silk of smoke

looks like the flare is aiming for the palace
from where the stables should be and the harem
i haven't cleaned my brush the ink is dry
the emperor may be godlike but he feels
the fear we know he is afraid for us
but we alas have hardly any words
left to console him