Category: Issue 26

Song

1

The last hour has been scheduled
For a forthcoming night.
You’ll ask, “Couldn’t this be avoided?”
Alas, what can I do, mate?

Before the lights go out,
Be sure to embrace action,
Till pompous speeches start to spout
In every direction.
2

Only memories of childhood
Can hope to cheer us up
Against the bitter orphanhood
That overfills the cup.

Much must be forgotten for
The sake of a new beginning,
So you may live forevermore
And answer for everything.
3

There is no truth of text,
Only the way itself has truth.
Only depending on this or that context
Can we know the right path to choose.

So may you, just as in the past,
Live on in this big world
And meet your death, if die you must,
The way you have deserved.

Translated from the Russian by Philip Nikolayev

*

Born in 1947, Lev Rubinstein was a major figure of Moscow Conceptualism and the unofficial Soviet art scene of the 1970s and 1980s. While working as a librarian, he began using catalogue cards to write sequential texts. He described his “note-card poems,” as a “hybrid genre” that “slides along the edges of genres and, like a small mirror, fleetingly reflects each of them, without identifying with any of them.” His work was circulated through samizdat and underground readings in the “unofficial” art scene of the sixties and seventies, finding wide publication only after the late 1980s. Now among Russia’s most well-known living poets, Rubinstein lives in Moscow and writes cultural criticism for the independent media. His books in English translation include Here I Am (Glas, 2001), Catalogue of Comedic Novelties (UDP, 2004), and Thirty-Five New Pages (UDP, 2011). In Compleat Catalogue of Comedic Novelties (UDP, 2014), his note-card poems appear in their entirety for the first time.

Daughter of Heaven & Earth

1917: Faberge eggs shattered. Dead butterflies

flew out, darkened the sky, petaled 

eyes of imperial statues.

 

The French glaze that had permeated the Russian world,

eroded, scoured all that came before. A pair of
revolutions
dismantled Tsarist autocracy,

 

leading to the rise of the Soviet Union. Born in 1900,

Nabokov entered young adulthood when revolutions

ripped the Tsars into bronze shards.

 

Crushed jewels dusted pores. Red

posters propelled propaganda. Mechanical grimaces

ground poems. Deus ex machina: a new idol—Stalin.

 

Gallic pages crumbled & blew away as the Soviet Union

bled. Nabokov first called forth, Speak, Mnemosyne.

Goddess of memory, mother of Zeus,

 

daughter of Heaven & Earth.

The memoir sprouted into Speak, Memory,

written in English, translated into Russian’s

 

glistering words. Dark ash

fell like black snow.

Bodies burning.

 

*

Dean Kostos is a poet, translator, anthologist, and memoirist. He is the author of eight books. His collection, This Is Not a Skyscraper, won the Benjamin Saltman Poetry Award, selected by Mark Doty. He was the recipient of a Rockefeller Foundation Cultural Innovation grant. His memoir, The Boy Who Listened to Paintings, will be released this fall.

Odors

Odors, those varieties of smell,
can be good at swimming. Far they go,
like the bubble, straw and bast-shoe tale,
or the mellow tune of “Suliko.”

Take this eatery. Amid all these
goodies, fruit-starch drink and cottage cheese,
one will sometimes catch a pong of chlorine,
of the morgue, of desiccated pine.

Other times, you come to say goodbye
to a corpse, and smell a sudden whiff,
by the morgue, of baking apple pie,
and the sun shines, and leaf clings to leaf…

Translated from the Russian by Philip Nikolayev

*

Yuli Gugolev is a poet, translator, and television personality born in 1964 in Moscow; TV-host of the foodie-program “Moscow in Your Plate” at the TV-channel Moscow 24, he is the author of four books of poetry: Polnoe: Sobranie sochineniy (Complete: Collected Works; Moscow: OGI, 2000); Komandirovochnye predpisaniya (Official Instructions; Moscow: Novoe izdatelstvo, 2006), which won the Moscow Score prize for 2007; Estestvenniy otbor (Natural selection; Novoe Literaturnoe Obozrenie,2010; Miy drugoi (Us is the other one), Novoe izdatelstvo, 2019). In 2008, Gugolev was one of three poets invited to give a series of bilingual readings around the United States sponsored by the NEA and the Poetry Foundation in conjunction with the release of Contemporary Russian Poetry: An Anthology from Dalkey Archive Press, (2008).Yuli Gugolev’s poems were also translated and published in Crossing Centuries, Talisman House Publishers, 2000. He has translated poems by Alice Fulton, Tony Hoagland, and A.E. Stallings (Modern American Poetry, an Anthology, Moscow: OGI, 2007),by Tom Paulin (Peashes and Diesel, Six Irish Poets. B.S.G.-PRESS, 2000); and by Patrick Kavanah (Irish Literature in Russian Translation, issue 1, Dublin: Trinity College, 2012).

Questions

Again, the milieu is enraged,
but the food’s taste’s unchanged,
and water’s keen to spew its wrath
without leaving the mouth.

Isn’t there something we could do
in spite of such sad trends,
by joining ranks without ado
with our like-minded friends?

It can be anything at all
our friends and we could do,
join ranks, lock arms and walk awol,
hobo abreast of hobo.

The cage door shuts no matter what,
there’s no more “no,” nor “yes.”
Truthless, the world ends in the twat
of its big universe.

So, what’s the moral? Must we pass,
submissive biomass,
like herds regurgitating grass,
silent into the past

as powerlines stretch in long strands
toward a nowhere night
and overhead a band of clouds
floats perilously bright?

Translated from the Russian by Philip Nikolayev

*

Yuli Gugolev is a poet, translator, and television personality born in 1964 in Moscow; TV-host of the foodie-program “Moscow in Your Plate” at the TV-channel Moscow 24, he is the author of four books of poetry: Polnoe: Sobranie sochineniy (Complete: Collected Works; Moscow: OGI, 2000); Komandirovochnye predpisaniya (Official Instructions; Moscow: Novoe izdatelstvo, 2006), which won the Moscow Score prize for 2007; Estestvenniy otbor (Natural selection; Novoe Literaturnoe Obozrenie,2010; Miy drugoi (Us is the other one), Novoe izdatelstvo, 2019). In 2008, Gugolev was one of three poets invited to give a series of bilingual readings around the United States sponsored by the NEA and the Poetry Foundation in conjunction with the release of Contemporary Russian Poetry: An Anthology from Dalkey Archive Press, (2008).Yuli Gugolev’s poems were also translated and published in Crossing Centuries, Talisman House Publishers, 2000. He has translated poems by Alice Fulton, Tony Hoagland, and A.E. Stallings (Modern American Poetry, an Anthology, Moscow: OGI, 2007),by Tom Paulin (Peashes and Diesel, Six Irish Poets. B.S.G.-PRESS, 2000); and by Patrick Kavanah (Irish Literature in Russian Translation, issue 1, Dublin: Trinity College, 2012).

Akhmatova in Victory Park

To Lena Mikhailik

“…But Leningraders gathered at first light
In countless multitudes on the strand and each
Planted a tree into the desolate mud…”
– Anna Akhmatova, “Maritime Victory Park”

Young Leo looks monstrous,
His swelling roar
Rings out squeaky,
His cradle is again rocked by fate.

Again, he stands over an intertwining of rivers,
Where the Acheron and the Lethe flow into the bay.

She declares: there will be a park here.
A park of what?
A park of nothing and no one in particular.

Maritime Victory Park –
A special kind of creature
To be deployed
Like a destroyed
Army.
A park that envelops roughly
A million dead souls
And nameless corpses.

They will stream, elbowing their way, to the stadium
Where a small orchestra much like Celan’s is blaring a flourish,
Where the Minotaur and the Unicorn are to co-participate
In the festive and nonfuneral ritual
Of cenotaph construction.

Old Charon tarried,
Left them unferried.
There are no graves,
Only a seaside park that waves and blooms,
Swayed by the barely buried.

They are hers now and she counts them all
On returning to her hometown from evacuation
In ’44, before the end of the war,
And finding nothing but a talking void everywhere:
In her own unowned home,
On the bridge, in the square…

She has become
Quite a Chichikov at this new mission, passion, obsession,
Though mightier, plumper and more eager.

The big housing management book teems
With ghost apartments
Bought with the gold coins of beet press cakes
The pockets of her deranged Antinous
(So they whisper)
Are lined with cash.

He has now been forever
Dismissed deleted expunged
By her
And let go play,
So off he goes
To make music on Victory Day
In Victory Park
With its rats, rats, rats, rats, rats
And carrion crows.

Translated from the Russian by Philip Nikolayev

*

Polina Barskova was born in Leningrad in 1976. She published her first book of poetry Christmas in 1991; her tenth book of poetry A Sunny Morning in the Square has recently been published in Saint Petersburg. Three books of Barskova’s poetry have been translated into English: This Lamentable City (Tupelo Press, 2010); The Zoo in Winter: Selected Poems (Melville House, 2011); and Relocations (Zephyr Press) 2015.As a professor of Russian literature at Hampshire College, Barskova began an archival project that resulted in Written in the Dark: Five Poets in the Siege of Leningrad (Ugly Duckling Presse, 2016), an anthology of work written during the siege that remained unknown for decades. In 2015 Barskova received Andrey Bely Prize for her book of prose Living Pictures; her play with the same title is staged in Moscow Theatre of Nations.

Newscast Akhmatova

Always the same question. What makes this century worse than any before it?—the twenty-year-old Anna asks in a poem.

Her century swelled with the inequities of all the previous ones.—I grew up there—at the end of the revolution that overflowed by seventy years—was rocked with her tight-lipped grief of her poems—

quoted by my mother, who had her face—whose face I now wear.

What news for her would make an adequate reply?

*

News: I have now lived most of my life in a country that, as Akhmatova would say, is relatively vegetarian.—People aren’t the main staple of its diet.—Immigrants the world over say, We didn’t come to this country, that country, or that country—any country but—to mourn our lives.

But the country where I went to high school, college, and grad school, where I later taught at my alma mater—school is one of the favorite dishes.—Routine cannibalism.—Bomb threats: we were evacuated into the parking-lot sunshine.—Spit three times over the shoulder: you and you, but not you, will avoid being eaten.

*

News: After three days in labor, I saw my son. Warmth rushed through me as I lay cut up, bellyup.—I said: We’ll have so much fun together, you and I.

The word fun thus entered my overcast Russian worldview.—Every day I meet him after school: he colors the world cerulean.

*

Anna Andreyevna’s son spent most of his life in a prison camp.—Because of his origins.—She could not rescue him even by writing odes to Stalin.—Most readers do not know, or else cannot remember, whether she wrote such odes.—She did.

*

Old news: Russia is carnivorous.—New news: now carnivorous beyond its borders.

Sort-of-new news: this country never stopped being carnivorous.—America’s eye, more technologically avian, looks into every home.—News: we might need a different word than home.

*

In the home of her poetry, Akhmatova has found room for her whole country.—Found a chronology: from lush turn-of-the-century eroticism to imprisonment—to oblivion, intended—but not accomplished—by the state.—In her stance of the memory keeper, she stood immovable.—Like a steppe baba statue: Paleolithic, gray; huge.

*

At the end of her life, Akhmatova said: My life had been replaced.

*

News: A few years back, a young woman in Moscow founded the first hospice for children in Russia.—This woman, a friend of mine, is now in her early thirties, a seasoned administrator for the hospice, somewhat cynical.—Her hospice, that colorful refuge, is still alive.—

*

Because my replies are like light touch, their comfort cool and faithless, each fingertip a raindrop.—I refuse to be separated from her: to sum her up.—She is needed.

*

Who, me? you ask. You seem amused.

Your rhetorical questions are needed, for they demand a specific integrity from each of us.—Your stone house of womanhood is needed, a house of protest.

You are the one with the news for this next century: This century is worse than those before it. Change something.

*

Olga Livshin’s poems, translations, and essays are published in The Kenyon Review Online, International Poetry Review, Poetry International, and other journals. Her collection of poems and translations from Anna Akhmatova and Vladimir Gandelsman, A Life Replaced, is forthcoming from Poets and Traitors Press.

“What makes this century worse than any before it?…”

What makes this century worse than any before it?
Maybe that, for once, it noticed the world’s sorrows,
black smoke rising from them. And it touched the heart
of this most painful ulcer. Still, it could not heal this.

The earthly sun’s still shining in the west;
our cities’ roofs, still blazing in its rays…
Here a white creature chalks the houses of the dead
with crosses, calls the ravens, and the ravens fly.

Translated from the Russian by Olga Livshin

*

Anna Akhmatova

Styles of the Season

This season it’s fashionable to come out
With an epic poem in Literary Damascus
About patriotic Urals dwarves who
Forge deep in the earth the swords of victory.

It’s fashionable, yes, but it’s classier
To switch to a different expressive medium
For a jolty ride in a highbrow film
As you sample curdled vodka from the canister.

A solar flare of cigar smoke drifts behind
The leader departing this world of strife.
Petitioners wait in the reception room
Of the Mayor of the Fourth Rome.

The boss of Saint Petersburg’s cabs is dispatched
To raise Saratov from its knees and ruins,
Where in the liquor store they check your passport
Once for every 100 mls of hard booze.

And this is why you aren’t exactly there:
A disembodied ghost, you’ve flown to where
In a surreal unprepossessing scenery
Houses are stacked like logs awaiting fire.

Translated from the Russian by Philip Nikolayev

*

Alexei Alexandrov has been published in numerous magazines, including Air, Volga, Children of Ra, and others. He is the author of three books of poems: Without leaving his cartoons (New York: Ailuros Publishing, 2013), These were torpedoes of good (Saratov: Music and Life; Amirit, 2018), Silent tracks (New York, Ailuros Publishing, 2019). He was inner of the festival “Cultural Heroes of the 21st Century” (1999) and serves as poetry editor of the magazine Volga.

May 29th

Tomorrow Pasternak dies
in Peredelkino, where on his grave
we spent our youth
reciting “August,”
surrounded by quiet men in dark suits —
they almost liked the lines.

Tomorrow is the day, the 30th. And three months from tomorrow
Tsvetaeva will hang herself
in a Tatar town on the black Kahma river.
Kahma — a tribute to the fuller, solemn
Volga, which rolls her waters south farther from the yoke.
The town with a hook-like name: Elahbuga.

A tributary to the yet unknown,
if only I could give her all my blood
to fill those cobalt rubble veins of a laborer!
If only — all the pine tree air to fill his tormented lungs! —
I, illegitimate offspring,
looking for the two of you

on every bank
of each big frozen river
where boats are stuck in hummocks.

*

Irina Mashinski is co-editor, with Robert Chandler and Boris Dralyuk, of The Penguin Book of Russian Poetry (Penguin Classics, 2015) and of Cardinal Points, the Journal of Brown University’s Slavic Department, and co-translator (with Maria Bloshteyn, Boris Dralyuk, and Robert Chandler) of Lev Ozerov’s Portraits Without Frames (NYRB, 2018). Irina Mashinski is the co-founder (with the late Oleg Woolf) and editor-in-chief of the Cardinal Points/StoSvet literary project. She is the author of ten books of poetry and translations (in Russian). Her first English-language collection, The Naked World, is forthcoming from Spuyten Duyvil.

To Atlantis

Fleet  left. Towers
are rising from waters
— and sink again:
*Grand Central of the sea —

its bottle glass of empty
***deep terminals, and foamless
*******passages, and shoals of baby fish…
Brave  Herodotus had it described, it’s just
*the illustrations
 ****that seem new.

So, to Palenque! To all the native cities
swallowed by forests, to all the folding books
of hieroglyphs, to the clean design
********************of Mayan steps,
to steppes beneath the alto-cumulus convoys,

where my grandfather at sixteen denounced
the family, joined the Red Guard,
saw terror, saw it all, sent them to hell,
got himself jailed, jailed again, exiled, then old.

We haven’t started it but we’ve got to see
how mermaids swim by rusty snapped-off doors
of an express stuck in abyssal mud —
and sit on cliffs of rhymes and sing.

As for the meter — as for the pure honey
of rhythm,
****for iamb of littoral, for anapest of depths,
lighthouses of metaphors, drill towers above shelf waters –
******we know that tar at night does look mysterious.

From space that glides so low,
*******oil spills look like an unknown
************alphabet.

*

Irina Mashinski is co-editor, with Robert Chandler and Boris Dralyuk, of The Penguin Book of Russian Poetry (Penguin Classics, 2015) and of Cardinal Points, the Journal of Brown University’s Slavic Department, and co-translator (with Maria Bloshteyn, Boris Dralyuk, and Robert Chandler) of Lev Ozerov’s Portraits Without Frames (NYRB, 2018). Irina Mashinski is the co-founder (with the late Oleg Woolf) and editor-in-chief of the Cardinal Points/StoSvet literary project. She is the author of ten books of poetry and translations (in Russian). Her first English-language collection, The Naked World, is forthcoming from Spuyten Duyvil.