Moscow on a Sunday

I’ll read it thoroughly,
Leafing through unknown faces:
Hello there, you alien and crazy
Capital city!
All are now dead
With whom I would have cared
To form a bond,
With whom I would have been glad
To share
The last piece of bread
Or just sit down and rest
In the midst of this mess.

The city,
Having read me too,
Is bored with me:
I am unable to cling
Admiringly to the glossy,
Advertised spring,
Nor gawk at the enamel blue
Of a Sunday sky,
With its sun but no sign
Of resurrection:

All that is left is the word,
All else is forgotten,
Otherwise Sundays would surely
Be permanently banned
And gone.
But what is to be done
If someone’s bent on
This idle day of spring?

I’ll go into town
In my cornflower blue dress,
By the desire to stare
At the Kremlin wall.
I, without any knowhow
On how to kowtow,
Suddenly feel
Like pressing my face
Against the cool red bricks.


So, all that’s left is to fall
Asleep and sleep all
Through Sunday.
Sorry to miss the glorious weather,
but it’s just one day.
No, sleep all eternity or, better,
Sleep for three hundred years and then come pay a visit
To this location, examine it
With the studious gaze of a tourist.


Translated from the Russian by Philip Nikolayev


An outstanding Russian poet, the late Olga Chugai’s work is lyric and innovative. A master of poetic forms, she was an early adopter of free verse among poets of the Soviet period, using traditional verse and various hybrid rhythmic patterns and achieving a distinct voice. Despite completing an advanced course of study in history at Moscow State University, she was denied graduation because she rejected editorial changes to her final thesis (she was asked to include irrelevant quotes from the works of Lenin and Marx). In the 1990s she received a degree in Advanced Literary Studies from the Literary Institute of the USSR Writers’ Union. Her collections included Sudba gliny (The Life of Clay, 1982) and her selected poems, Svetlye storony t’my (The Bright Sides of Darkness, 1995). She edited an important two-volume anthology of Russian poets of her generation, Grazhdane nochi (Citizens of Night, 1990-2), and also translated poetry from several languages. Chugai founded and was the leader of the First Book Laboratory at the Writer’s Union in 1977-90, an organization that facilitated the publication of first books by many subsequently acclaimed new poets, including Ivan Zhdanov, Nina Gabrielyan, Arkady Shtypel, Faina Grimberg, and Arvo Mets. For these reasons Chugai was nicknamed “supplier of genius.” Philip Nikolayev has the exclusive right to translate her poems into English; his translations are published with the approval of the Olga Chugai estate.


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