Twenty-first Century Russian Poetry


Maria Stepanova


Translated by Sibelan Forrester

A chill that embraces your waist.
Boost your daughterly profile up,
Like a tree, without flying away.
Wheth - a square weighed down by the mob,
You're a tsar, and a cur, and a door.
Stand empty, like a fancy hall,
As you're longing, the way a veldt lioness
Yawns by the lionlike maw.
Purring to the kitty's nickname
In a chill, which, and well enough,
Comprehend you - from the tuft
Of your tail. Step by step. Paw by paw.


That birdo, both sittactingly and singingly,
Was evidentially my commissar,
And just like a charger, overt-achingly,
Under it the cypress resurrected.

That birdo, auto-movingly to freedom,
Was my military gène-eral,
And the lawn ate up the garden water 
Of the early ice, just like its ration.

That birdo, or not, but no more than half a cent,
Was, I think, my sou-vereign,
And his profile on the airy pillow-
A souvenir before death of my era.


As Danaë, prone in the incarce-chamber,
Hears the sounds of rain, barking, a ring and clink,
Sweetly squeezing her eyes shut (in vain: you can't sleep
Through a visit by gold),
In the warm night, hear ye: suddenly and in the west
The gate hinges groan, snow blows into your mouth,
And weightily over the ice, as if on sand, villagers
Step with their wagons.

Silence? Silence. Nobody's there, nobody.
The person-examplar lies to sleep, as people lie,
Cumulonimbus migratory, feathery friable,
Banning evolution.

A female I-person would also sleep, but no.
There pining for us, who heal over in an hour
With grey hair, with scales, chicken feathers,
He is, and swallows tears.


The Bride

May was hot untypicly, whitely.
In each tree the birds were busy.
From sidewalks the gals looked askance
And bird-cherry swept through the air.
Here anybody would get heated up.

They say if you were born in May,
Even if you hide behind tulle drapes,
The longing will always gnaw through, which,
Snatches up its little plaything
And rocks it on the very edge.

This Betty had barely grown up.
To the rest of them seemed a bit simple,
Just as if in-one-ear out-the-other
A breeze from an oar on the Yauza:
Her common sense went down the river.

She didn't go out on the street.
And she didn't go pose with her girlfriends.
That small gift of youthful liveness,
That whiteness, and sweetness, and scarletness,
Knocked her off of her feet like a blow.
And she was deathly frightened - of water.

Even in the tap, as a thin stream.
Even the kettle's - puff of steam.
That's why, even as a petty girl,
They put up, although they said nothing, 
With a fainting spell every evening.

She'd tip over, like going to sleep.
She'd blench, like a saucer from under.
They'd bring her fresh water to drink,
And taking a bite of her lip,
She'd float into spring out of season.

Even to school she wore pins
To keep herself safe from misfortune:
She kept getting scratched on her hands.
She was banned from boats or ponds, there,
Even benches encircling the pond! 

This maidenly May was surrounded
By a marvelous omnious heat,
Rising up right to her bare knees,
As brewed tea poured into a teacup.
All this also led to some changes.

For example, a suitor appeared.
Like a ten-gun salute in the park
In the hot sky, with some fateful present,
Distinguished from all of the others,
Like heavenly fabric from earthly.

Here too's a dress lace and a veil,
Yards of lace, wings of advice,
Bows, ribbons, a snugging corset
And a train, drawn out into the distance:
Like she's set to take off from a runway! 

So a wedding and mead from the moustache.
The date's set, they're counting the hours.
A week to wait, trimming the flounces,
Trying the shoes on for size,
Conveying a part to her hair.

One of her neighbors caught on:
The bride is scared out of her wits
And can't get them back in their place.
She's losing weight, and she's grown pale,
And she sits all alone in the evening.

This little dame gathered her nerve,
Took a teaspoon of air in her chest,
Went over,
Put her ear up against the first door,
And, taking a listen, she froze.

Ay and Oy kept repeating, and Oy.
And the water made noise through the pipes.
"He's decided to get really mad,
The water god, water god, water god.
Why'd I had to go take after him! "

"And why did I give me to him,
When he showed up, like a bequest?
On a dread day in my distant childhood
I hid from him, locked in a cupboard...
And to this day haven't been safe."

"I want to be wed, like a vine! 
But the strict lord and master upsets me
With each compote cup in the kitchen:
He splashes soft: 'Won't let you go! '
Glitters wobbly: 'I'll get my revenge! '"

"I'm so scared of him, the old man! 
No sooner does water splash up,
Or a stormcloud gleam under the sky
Into the stunned green of my iris,
It's him, and he's sending a hin-"

...And the neighbor, her teeth all a-chatter,
Stepped lightly the length of the hall
She was fleeing from that conversation -
She had no advisor, no doctor
In the garb of emergency services.

And she was already preparing
An appeal to the local town council,
When the water from the kitty's dish
Smirked, distending itself from below,
And told her: "And you can just stick it."

So no one learned anything ever.
The car rolled on up with the bows,
With a pink doll under the flowers,
Decorating our celebration.
And, reminiscent of a deity,

Down the staircase the bride descended
While the groom up the staircase ascended
And snatched her up like a bouquet
And his car took them driving away,
Drove away, and away it stayed.

And drooping, like a withered twig,
And whiter than funeral brocade,
Speaking rarely and inaudibly,
Till her dying day that neighbor woman
Read the news in the major newspapers.

There's no consolation, and none.