Twenty-first Century Russian Poetry


Dennis Novikov


In Memoriam Dennis Novikov (1967-2004)

Translated by Philip Nikolayev

Nursery Rhyme

At the twentieth century's close
I behold the beast in man
and in woman the nonhuman,
as if leafing through prints of Bosch. 

These ruthless optics of the mad,
eyes sad and ice-cold still,
you were afraid to try on, coward.
Now look: you too are ill.

* * *

Beating the strings in a junior euphoria,
the building's yard sang songs of fate and love,
sending out emissaries, half of them nicknamed Kuzya -
Kuzmin, Kuzmenko or, more typically, Kuznetsov.

From the store, the fine emissary brought
wine, carmine Agdam and other purple port.
This is not Anna, it's Oxana: save
this lesson in your head for life, young Kuznetsov.

The soldier'll come back from Afghanistan,
everything will soon be all right again, kind of.
No, it will be as always: standard, everyman,
yet with the difference that this is Kuznestov.

* * *

Let's go, let's take the shortest route,
I know a shortcut here,
to get some bread, smokes, beer,
fruit soup, what not.

And on the way we'll share our life
stories, naming within that frame
bright guardian angels of our strife
with opaque demons of our shame.

Let's hear the festive ocarina
sing, weep and perish, too-doo-loo,
no, not for a line of cocaine,
nor for a pint of heady brew.

It sings, fixed with a chain of metal
to a high hopeful reverie,
dilating like a burning prairie
within the widely narrowed pupil.

Let's go. We've never been. The basket
of years floats by like numbered dreams
churned by Vlad Lenin's damaged brains
inside his labradorite casket.

Dark clouds remain God's secret lodge,
and in Red Square the earth's become
a wall by oneiric logic
and all completely dark with time.

Let's go then, us, let's take the shortcut,
following the expiring sunrays,
our intellectual walk amusement
for the patrols of mounted sailors.

* * *

Rain will pour from ledges, shake its rattle,
bringing recollections in the fall.
I'm like rain, I challenge ferrous metal.
When I pass you will recall.
Rain will drum its head against the pavement
(wrench tears out of stones, if you insist).
I'm like rain, an evanescent element,
yet it's thanks to me that you exist.

* * *

Can you hear the birds calling, not singing,
at break of dawn?
January snowfall will not let them sing,
permit withdrawn.

Jackdaws and crows and some stranger among 
them on the run,
humanly watchful above me, all those
feathers in snows.

* * *

i shall not break this silence
siesta dead and deep
may thus your sons the finest
enjoy their final sleep

come poetry bring by request
each son a colored dream
aim slightly higher to the left
make sure to hit us clean