Twenty-first Century Russian Poetry


Katia Kapovich


Translated by Boris Dralyuk

The Merry Disciplinarian

Now there's no way that I'd remember
that tune the friendly psycho sang
when we would sweep the yard together
out by the homosexual wing.

He had a pellagrin's dry skin -
no laces on his beat-up boots.
And it was fall. The cry of cranes
filled up that leafiest of yards.

The orderly would then escort
three more out for their daily stroll.
We'd squat, dragging on cigarettes,
scattering ashes by the wall.

That's when he'd start, his bald head swaying
with what was spilling from his heart.
One for all. We didn't know the song and
sat there and listened, keeping quiet.

* * *

After a funeral in autumn
the band drinks vodka in a garden;
the midday chimes have fallen silent
and the accordion's forgotten.
To die like this- to have somebody
strike up a tune for all my kin,
then pull a corkscrew from a pocket,
without a word, and take a drink.
You'll look and see: the sky's cleared up
above the belfry in the town,
and now, once more, they'll pass around
that little paper cup.

In Nabokov's Memory

Translated by the author

Dead roses, plastic tulips, dry immortelles-
he hated them in the German hotels,
drinking coffee from cups whose shiny backs
had been designed with swastikas of cracks.

He never settled down to sink his roots
in any fathermotherland. Old bear,
he wore the same old-fashioned English suits
that had traveled so far during the war.

His wife, his alter echo, read him books
as he lay ill in bed, prepared to die.
He knew by name all foreign lakes and brooks
as they passed by.

A man forgets men rather than forgives.
Laugh, Mnemosyne, healing muse of those
whose heads are crowned, but not with laurel leaves-
with the whispering reeds of other shores.

Flamenco Evening

Because spring came a month late,
whole crowds descended into the streets,
including myself and that midget girl.
A band was playing flamenco favorites,
and she was all dressed up, as if for a date
who had stood her up
in front of all those people.

She started tapping her foot,
her shoes on unbearably high heels
caught the rhythm but never left the spot
between the neon of the Cambridge Trust Company
and the dismantled meadows of Harvard Flowers.

Her short white hands
pressed to her chest embraced
her broken heart
and held it like a bowl of milk.

She danced and danced,
her shadow growing longer than her body,
as the Square streetlights came on,
erasing footprints from the dust
but leaving standard paper cups to whiten
in the regular dusk.