unlike the others

courage instantly surges
from the glass in the hand
can’t we be like the others
help me understand

amid chaos and decadence
in the head and the street
bitter love’s evanescence
makes hostility sweet

first cadet corps and church
then siberian exile
every lash of the birch
serves to make us more servile

but when wartime returns
our soft gaze will turn stern
drunken ivan will curse
sober ahmed will burn

that’s because education
and ancestral genetics
make us hate with a passion
those who are not like us

just to intimidate you
we have scanned your identity
try to leave and we’ll treat you
to polonium 210 tea

Translated from the Russian by Philip Nikolayev

*

One of Russia’s outstanding living poets, Alexei Tsvetkov is the founder, with Sergey GandlevskyBakhyt Kenjeev, and Alexander Soprovsky, of the Moscow Time poets’ group. In 1975 he was arrested and deported from Moscow and in the same year emigrated to the United States. He edited the emigre newspaper Russkaya Zhizn (San Francisco, 1976–77) and earned a Ph.D. degree from the  University of Michigan. Tsvetkov taught Russian language and literature at Dickinson College, then worked as an international broadcaster at the Voice of America radio station and later at Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty in Munich and Prague. Currently, he is a freelance writer based in New York City and Israel.

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