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Two New Poems

(POEM FOR ZHADAN)

 

This (my) country will be the death of you

Its military mathematics

Its secret services

Its illusions and constructs

Its lack of scruple

Its mendacious depravity

But I like your fury

 

I doubt we’ll strike an agreement

 

These creatures, these imperial demons

Rip out their organ of speech

Yours and mine it is to rip out

From common reason

Our assurance that they speak what we speak

Our assurance in speech

Our body is not to be made

Their immediate hostage

 

Be more cunning

I want you to be safe and sound

At the very center of hellfire

Employ scouts

Enlist traitors

Keep a gun under your pillow

Kick ‘em under the knee, slit their tendons

Otherwise we won’t make it

We are betrayed on every side

Only you

No traitor are to me

 

Trust me

Otherwise we won’t make it

 

We are the brains of this war

It all depends on us only

 

Children of city limits

We carry Mace and brass knuckles in our pocket

We carry the main words in our heart

For the requiem of soldiers and bandits

 

 

 

MY UKRAINIAN FAMILY:
SECOND GRANDMOTHER 

 

I didn’t like her as a child

She either said nothing or gloomily joked

Her Russian (as it was later found out, part

Crimean Greek) husband was taken prisoner near Smolensk

He died in ‘44 in the camps

As it was found out by my

Brother’s godfather

Lena Isayeva sent

A photo of the monument

 

She paid no attention to us, children

She only cared for her cow

At 4 in the morning she got up to milk

 

Her prayers before the icons

Of Saint Nicholas and the Holy Mother of God

Made of paper, in casing of cheap hard foil

Frightened me

A mug of raw milk at six in the morning

Annoyed me

Especially the flecks inside

But on the whole I enjoyed

The taste, and put up with

Being woken early, to fall back asleep

Until the whole family rose

Around nine

 

Because she knew how to milk

And spoke some German

She survived, first the collectivization

When she, the daughter of a suppressed farmer from near Kharkov,

Was sent to an ethnic German cooperative in Russia proper,

And after that she wound up under occupation.

 

How airplanes turned over the Don

How bombs fell on bridges

How nice the Germans and the Hungarians were afterwards

And how boys sledded on corpses

They poured water over

My brother and I would learn from our father

 

Her hands were dry and sinewed

She never hugged me

And when she did, it would have been better she hadn’t:

Her callouses scratched my back

She was unpleasant to feel

And she herself didn’t even want it

 

Everything she cooked she ruined

Except for fish soup

Even her borscht, which is weird for a Ukrainian

Breakfasts a torture

Quark pancakes always ended up burnt

This is enough for a child to fear such a grandma

 

But when I grew up

I grew to like more and more

Her gloomy autism

The iron strength of her character

The way she showed men their place

With no fear of their alcoholic frenzy

I witnessed it when I was 11

 

Her second husband drank

German stock, russified already in the nineteenth century

Their village told apart Ukes and Russkies

Just by ancestors, with no emotions

Her father’s last name was Pyanytsya

People called her Petrova

She hid grandpa Petr

In the cellar almost up to the war

Until he died

They buried him in the vegetable garden

He escaped during transport to Solovki

It was the transport his mother died on

My father then said in the south

Of the Voronezh district

The secret services were less vigilant

 

So what am I supposed to feel right now, what?

 

She could scale a fish alright

Ruffes, bream and carp

Her sons caught on the Don

While they did petty poaching

 

We visited her with my father

On a ship we boarded in Voronezh

Over magic blue-green sluices

Over the Voronezh and Don rivers—

 

A child’s heart skipped a beat

When they rose and sank—

Over enormous chalk mountains

 

I still see in dreams

How easily, like a strong fish,

I swim the complex universe of a large European river

With its eddies and seaweed

Its drowned ships and deepwater secrets

Its spots of gasoline and tar

Its docks and landings

To come to her by the Don, to her whitewashed Ukrainian home

With mallow along the fence.

 

*

 

These poems were selected for inclusion in the January 2016 Translation Issue by Daniel Medin, a contributing editor of The White Review. He is Associate Director at the Center for Writers and Translators at the American University of Paris, and an editor for The Cahiers Series and Music & Literature.



ABOUT THE CONTRIBUTOR


(b. 1962) is a Russian poet and journalist with Radio Liberty. In 2010 she was awarded the Best Translated Book Award for The Russian Version (Ugly Duckling Presse). Once noted for her verbal pyrotechnics, where slang and rhythmical breaks undercut high art conventions, Fanailova is currently experimenting with absence of poetic affect.

Eugene Ostashevsky is a poet and translator of Russian avant-garde and contemporary poetry. His edition of Alexander Vvedensky’s An Invitation for Me to Think won the 2014 National Translation Award from the American Literary Translators Association.