Twenty-first Century Russian Poetry


Oleg Woolf


In Memoriam: Oleg Woolf (1954-2011)

Translated by Boris Dralyuk

* * *

My sympathy to you, o sojourner, 
and my compassion. A Soviet classic once  
compared a rifle shot to balding  
husbands at a festive table. 
There are no husbands, years, feasts, 
classics, rifles, now. Only an oaken 
table of oafs, a deaf and godforsaken Baal 
set for some nineteen hundred seventeen. 
Here, every year, a birthday's held 
by other husbands, wives of other workdays. 
Baals of old demand their sacrifices, 
no less than the new hounds of law 
demand their bloody entrails. Here 
a hostess, to justify the furniture,   
lights an electric lamp, as she'd have lit 
a kerosene lamp years before. You see: 
as usual. A knife lies on the dexter side, 
and the same talk of heat, 
of grief, the happiness of a new state, 
and of its greatness at a troubled hour, 
to bear for us the secret burden 
of hard choices. Well, let us raise a toast 
to home and table, raise this glass 
then - sighing, having set it down 
onto the heavily starched tablecloth - 
we'll toast to time's faceted vision 
and to a higher, patient sense, 
unclear to any mortal hold-back, 
till he walks outside, as through a door, 
into a creaky, shabby sorrow,   
and, blinded by a sudden garden, 
stands still upon the porch, astonished 
by what's revealed. It's time. Your coat 
lies trampled near the hanger. So long!  
Walk through the city, as before. The clouds 
are laid aside. Shining above are flanks 
of a new moon - an almost-Muscovite, 
like migrants from Moldova. 

Translated by Boris Dralyuk and Irina Mashinski

* * *

It is scary for nameless light
to blaze all the way through.
Do come to love loving me --
I will come to love you.
Our world, worn-out by time, will soon
be wholly transformed;
So take me on faith alone --
just like that, for I am.

On Wednesdays

Translated by Irina Mashinski and the author

On Wednesdays they just live here and paint coarse 
walls. The town is all Romanian and painted. 
The front bumper tailgates the horse. 
Seven comes closer to half 
                 past seven, becomes eighted. 

On Thursday, right after that 
it rains. March has a return address  
with all these local watermarks, another bad 
snail mail ended with God bless 

and started with Dear Former 
Addressee. And the farmer 
throws his bucket into the well 
of village wine, waiving his farewell.