Twenty-first Century Russian Poetry


Polina Barskova


Translated by Catherine Ciepiela


what matters is not at what place but what moment
the uncoupling decoupling
of movement outward begins:
in December precisely in Okhta probably
identical buildings of crap leatherette
on which scars of SovHousewares glow in the night
meat vegetables footwear - abstract metamatter.
filth flies as galoshes gallop across
the wasteland:  so earnest, you know,
such candor and cha-harm in those nightly sessions! 
where the elevator drops you Dante-like circle by circle 
to the basement where a blind cat gnaws on a piece of glass
or the anemic grove at the edge of the well-fed park
where a musing imbecile pisses on a rotting mat of leaves
with casual dignity like a faun perched on 
one of Peterhof's fountains.
the boudoir protocol of familiar and formal address
eight poets one more monstrous than the next in his
despairing artistic malice,
the burning bush of crude come-ons
flares predictably with goodbyes -
again the deus ex machina misses his cue.
Morning, December, river.
laminated stamped
approved for the shining hell of resurrection.


At the start of every relocation, he was seized by a massive sadness of calm
A sadness of perceptiveness
Crumbled buildings covered with crumbling graffiti
Fellow passengers on the train
Jutted out of the humid midday
With exceptional trust they submitted to his most cherished procedure:
He slowly undressed and then dressed them in peeling layers of time
First unveiling in the fat squinting old guy with countless strata of chin
A mischievous defenseless tender cherub
Then fast-forwarding the slim-legged flat-chested preoccupied nympho
To a quintessential neat bluish sour grandma
(who she was not destined to become - skin cancer, that sweet little mole on her chin)

And why should he be concerned - relocation was by now a familiar ritual
Of his cleverly arranged life
Twice a year he threw off his skin
And returned to his native self
Which completely came down
To his tie to this city

He didn't imagine himself a filching Orpheus or fibbing Odysseus,
Who followed the call of nature into hell.
On the contrary - hell was his home town.
Rejecting him like he had rejected it
With that seductive disgust
Which floods the city's 
Every radial line, every arrogant festering canal;
The years it had spent without him
Securely concealed from the naïve returnee
The city's childlike growing changing gleaming soft new little body.
Sour faces dropped comments fits of cursing smells
No longer related to him, they related to someone else, related to no one.

For several days he pursues his business
With unnatural stubbornness thrusting the past on the city
As though this unnatural operation
Could  presto!  turn the past into a present
That had something to do with him.
And once, in the season when faded nights trickle down faded wallpaper,
He leaves the bedroom of his incidental
Girlfriend of plentiful words and lips 
She sensing a long and messy reckoning
He walks out onto the street
Also by the way sensing the approach
Of forgiveness
Of dark-skinned trembling fingers down on his elegant head
My son you are forgiven
Everything's black red gold

He gives a lewd smirk
Out of the avenue's red shadows (yes, a ghost story!)
A red car appears
Can't brake in time
He falls easily and heavily
Saying something to himself