Twenty-first Century Russian Poetry


Yevgeny Slivkin


Translated by Boris Dralyuk

				Armed with the vision of those wispy wasps
				that suck the axis of the Earth, Earth's axis,
				I sense all that I've had to come across,
				and I recall it all by heart and uselessly...

				                      - Osip Mandelstam, 1937

Near flowers stricken with angina,
consumptive bushes all around,
I stand in red-clay Oklahoma
and guard my throat from blood.

As if my life, doubling itself,
all of a sudden went aslant
and, between Indians and cowboys,
lay prostrate as a no man's land.

Across the fields, the iron pumps,
as if they see through everything,
somehow, like Acmeistic wasps,
suck in the axis of the Earth.

While through the town - that is, the stop,
which coincided with my fate -
a train flows on, laden with crude,
its buffer in another state.

Then it will break, go in reverse -
in no real hurry to deliver -
drawn-out, like a hypotenuse,
that's been promoted to a square.

And drowning out the tramping cattle,
along the length of unpaved roads,
a hacking, unremitting whistle
will burst into the prairie grass.

                    For G. E.

Going away forever, so that you
would never rise again,
you gave much thought to the Eternal Jew,
dying of cancer.

And you insisted, half-bewildered,
clamped by the grip of death,
that even the Eternal Jew would need
an escort on this earth.

So you tore free from the firm claws
in the solitary ward,
as if you'd opted for a different curse,
which didn't seem more horrid...