I change at Trubnaya metro and see — fire
I get off at the university and see — fire
I go down the escalator at Chistye Prudy and see — fire
when we fall at Begovaya, at Vykhino, we see — fire, fire, fire
boys and girls their eyes filled with blood
(to hell with ’68)
students in hats with pompons
walking silently next to me
and suddenly they start to shout: “FIRE! FIRE! FIRE!”
suffocating in dark leggings
the universities flare up
the textbooks of cowardly literature
mixed with lusterless works
flare up along with me
only tonight we became younger
and everyone wants to be honest with himself
he puts on a hard hat and a shield and whispers: “fire“
in a siberian dorm in the shitter he slashes his wrists, can’t help it, and
he knocks over the guard and falls by the turnstiles, shouting: “fire!“
and the guard shouts: “fuck off, go back to your ’68, you’re dead!”
creators of meditative internet surveys, remember
all the universities here stand on blood
in the tests and IDs blood is splashing
blood is boiling in their pockets
in the cafeterias and the bars they serve only blood
and we think it’s juice, or tea, or food,
but it’s blood, blood, black rotten blood
write an article when you can’t keep back the blood
attach yourself to some fashionable politicians and say, “yes, there
really is some blood here …“
that’s right, fool, it’s in your department, on your sneakers, on your lips
we are all standing here covered in blood
and what kind of struggle could have an impact?
to explain the importance of student actions
maybe now we don’t need 1968 in that form
to explain the importance of student actions
I go out on the streets
I call home
I say: “mama, everything will be fine. no one will be saved.
because salvation is for those who believe in the pressure, believe in
the absolute power
of the system
salvation is an idea for slaves
and there is no salvation. mama, we are all saved. you just need to see:
the marches, the millions, their desire, fury, their fire.
speaking as best they can, without trying to build something or
otherwise, what kind of students would they be, otherwise
fat fat fat
death death death”
while we were writing and screwing while we were tortured by
while dealing with the dead body of politics and burying the state’s
lamented carcass in heaven
Bulgarian students have occupied Sofia University demanding the
government be dissolved,
they say: “because we felt, we knew, that our fellow citizens would
and you say: “well, Bulgaria isn’t Russia, less poison and rot,
here in old Russia, under the heel, under pressure, we have to bend
over backward thinking up slow methods of struggle, clear political
yes, you have to fucking think, think from within
submission, of course, you have to think, where’s Nadya and where
are we in our death,
students bent over in the darkness, asses in the air
our sex is covered in black ashes
and leaden wine, a web of ritual meetings of cheap poems
Pavlensky nailed his balls to the paving stone
and for three years I can’t kiss you
can’t be with you, my beloved
because of this darkness
because you are weak like all of us
your mothers dripped like fat and cry
they can’t understand what’s going on
they scramble into the city in black buckskin and terrible tunics
scramble into death through the sales
discounted milk their rank vaginas
able only to give birth: “yes to the health of the Russian nation, no to
let them go from our Moscow-vagina“
our mothers left thick scars on the dead body of the land
our mothers—domestic clots of flat aggression
and everything tells them: “take it!”
our fathers smooth sick erasers lulled to sleep with imaginary food and
an imaginary war
and our fathers, the ones who work in provincial factories
like trees spreading their branches in a pus-filled winter
and you say: “Galya, what’s this got to do with ’68?”
this is NOT some intellectual rebellion
I go out on the streets
and I see: only fire
I die on the street
and the last thing I see is fire
my friends, pumped up on heavy pills
they follow me
we splinter off in the depths and all we see
this isn’t heaven isn’t hell it’s a political system, the essence of which is
the essence of which is repetition until death and a failure to see
repetition, until the fat and the horror leave our people
our fellow citizens
there’s no knife
no other weapon
no reasonable discourse
no public lectures
no tender poetry
no terrible tenderness at the last
they threw the body of the migrant onto the tracks
they tear the living flesh off our friends
with pumped-up thighs they come to kill
raping while you’re taking notes on Lermontov’s biography
killing, throwing on the tracks while you’re dreaming of a career in
physics, making it big
while you’re dreaming of manned flights to other galaxies
they will cover the whole sky with a flag of death as if there’s nothing
no galaxies at all
and maybe, when you’ve done your half-assed notes, you will go and
go and tear the living flesh off a migrant or a tramp
or you’ll shout business is love
because they are you because there is no class enemy
only cruelty they
only betrayal we
only silence I
without love, without power, without sex, without time, without ’68
a feminist wail with a needle in your tongue
weak boys in black suspenders
students without student solidarity
bent over for a fuck in the offices
dead education in polished boots
horrible russian men with little beards with briefcases and feeble
frozen in the universities like root vegetables
in the black earth
the burnt face of fertility, the decrepit corpse of the silver age
the works of Tsiolkovsky on the bones of mysterious animals
a mutated president embracing Akhmatova
your death sport and red caviar
what is there in this place?
football matches in nowhere
and the vibrating old breasts of our mothers
and youth, youth, youth,
drenched in a weak alcoholic cocktail
with a small brow and dirty fingernails
youth, without sex, without rage, without love
televisions blown up by punks
I leave my house and rush to remind you
while the future lard and another layer of lard and slow, flexible
murder are sleeping in you
outside time, outside love and art, outside political convictions,
we are ass lubricant
containers for death
the death of philosophy
we have gathered all together
animals devouring other animals,
covered in makeup and pimples
with rotten notes and grades going out for a smoke
opening our eyes for a minute
we must see fire
never see blood
nor those fucked by the crowd
we see only: fire!
I move from Moscow to Petersburg and see: fire!
I see screaming universities
I see people kissing
I move from Petersburg to Novosibirsk
from Novosib to Chita
from Chita to Krasnodar and see people alive
I see students, fire
people marching, fire
trembling, feeling, blind
invincible and kind, fire
I see you fire
love you fire
knowledge rage emotion and fire
for those who have occupied our reality prison and fire
where all the city squares are ours—fire
thinking what’s next—fire
other galaxies books science fire
death to the anthropological machine fire
Diderot in the Kremlin with a skull in his hands fire
I see Benjamin with a red flag and a cup of coffee in the Kremlin fire
everyone rising from the camps and marching with us to the squares
and into the institutes fire
for our grandfathers and great-grandfathers the forests and the wheat
for wine and cigarettes fire
for the possibility of a personal stance fire
for solidarity for weakness for breaking the blockade fire
for death to the consumer system for an end to media violence fire
for our meetings real meetings of people alive speaking us fire
beyond alienation beyond limits and nations fire
fire beyond myself and in the students
and in the family and in me and in
you, who already knows
who says: “this is how I want it, I’m not jerking off someone else’s ideas,
I lie down under a tree and I’m eating a fresh roll, eating my bread,
they shoot bullets at me and miss”
I get out at a suburban Moscow train station and I see crowds of
students marching up
pale free consolidated university
barely trembling, in the air only
in smoke raised by practice
in which all limits
are torn at the seams like the clothes of your beloved
who you meet once again
in fire lying with her
and I say: “Yes. My lover, yes.
We are together again.”
— Translated by Joan Brooks
we live in a dark world
pressing toward others through thin cracks
through crooked pipes we flow back
into the dolorous lake.
solitude inside, lying and licking
a language wrecker
the murk of order has no bottom.
loud fingers click, like a lock
on the wasteland of your head, holding back
in the cool basin of night.
moves along the wall,
state property, where time flows like mud
in bad weather… flows, flows…
you’re still hanging around the human… before you go
sit down with me for a second in the forced folds of the morning,
in the baked blanket, like the fat lips of war.
you lie there alone in shabby comfort,
hiding your head from an invisible blow—
the wrecking bar labors methodically,
gouging gnarled holes in your fear—
love can do this, so sublimely
it would seem…
questions of collaboration.
a cross of flame. death
cooks up some soup where it all gave out.
a lusterless friend appeared on the threshold,
like an anachronism,
I don’t know what to do with him
and under lock and key the struggle
found some way to adapt.
over time nothing comes out—
only the body hardens.
think of it like you’re dragging a tin can
over to a friend’s place, out onto the square, dragging it, like someone else
soft militant talking too much
fuck knows what
on the fence of the empire they write: “basically everything’s allowed”
the left party has again come to power in the USA
say vegetables from the fire,
pouring hot juices onto deep sleep:
rise, militant, if you want to eat
whoever you are
war philosopher war philosopher
I am a war philosopher of peace, like the lotus,
I am a war philosopher of peoples past
I am the philosopher of unseeing white plants,
of shell shucker-fucker consciousness, of bruised stones,
of ecological performance artists,
like borders, like memory.
I don’t know what you’re talking about,
what happened, who lay with whom in my book of war,
the world map no longer functions in my book of war.
read my book whoever you are read it
buy it if you can, militant
you know where.
some uncanny bug like in childhood crawls across the plain
everything is big and surprising… so important…
let’s go to the shop.
across the wasteland.
teenagers shout at my father: “black-ass!”
a child swollen from the light.
in the school cafeteria.
a feast of insects.
I can still see through the crack: in this cellar
met leaders of states.
onto the sleep-grille—the grille of language: the language of history.
onto the love-grille marriage lays its grille, and the child-grille burns on the grille of time.
the speech-grille brings politics to an end.
in grilled off spaces anonymous; code in the hole-grille is drilling.
where’s the hatch?
where’s the way out?
why have you squeezed yourself into the concentrated space
no time for loss.
desire calls us to the final muster
without boots, without a passport
along the barrel, along the mountain
in the shade inside
you go—everything is ok now,
schools of thought like rotting animal skins descanting in the darkness…
beyond this enmity
light awaited us.
Translated from Russian by
the all-elucidating blood of animals
politics: animals in a hut deciding how to be
a breeze in the hair of darkskinned animals
the belly cries of white elephants
moving within economic systems,
shedding skin, dropping fur
the critique of pure reason cleft by claw
sex acts in the lagoon, dark liquid, sobs…
death on the knife-edge of memory
the old leader in a heated coffin carried through the Siberian steppe
darkblue doublets bear fragmentary traces of the hunt, the savage flowering of phonemes
sensual wounds on warm flesh in the muffled consciousness of a gadfly
in the cold winters we gathered on our own
phoned absent friends from the hut
created a forest of soviets, harems of regimes
and only one made it out alive
ethics: they want to eat
finishing in dead signs
— Translated by Ainsley Morse
IN MY HEAD
Time buttoned all the way up
With a fat tie tightly knotted
Slowly falling out of the gates of state institutions,
Shuffling in puke-colored boots,
Strangling workers’ families, spinning its yarns
To fortune-tellers and osteopaths, asking dead doctors—
my back hurts, what should I rub it with?
Why, why, it’s saying, turning the pages of an empty diary,
Sewn up tight in living skin, why don’t they like me, why don’t
these creatures support me?
It cuts out the tongues of gloomy poets,
Already on uppers, antidepressants, and good food
for some time now, cheerily spitting at the émigrés as they go,
Putting a fire under the activists’ asses.
While workers’ families flow along roads and rivers, embracing their children;
a migrant in a smoke-filled construction trailer
cooks up the evening’s cup noodles and texts his wife and mother…
We danced joyously in the desert without tongues,
We knew: the great day is still to come.
Animal dreams see people. Racists kiss the veterans
at the Victory Day parade, and they cum into their caps (what word unprinted is he writing, what?)
“He has these fat fingers, like sausages, but he plays the accordion so fast,”
my father said once at dinner,
just back from the factory.
He was talking about one of the foremen, it was 1996.
Now this iron accordion blows its bellows from our innards,
Its music hits you all the way to your bones,
leaving no room or time for tears. We are drawn inside this music, twisted up in racing sleep.
Fast learner, war is coming up
to the walls of frozen buildings – who’s that in there with you?
Nobody. When we were kids they’d hide us in the factory pipes,
in copper cables, under the desks in school, so we’d be quiet.
In my head the Irtysh River is roaring and stretching long,
the fiery banks are crashing down,
the Taiga is beating a bearskin drum, and the beast tears a red flag with its teeth.
We have our own special history, our own rules of struggle,
where comrades open their veins because they just need to stop.
Young, rotten-toothed Russia hovers with her dry cunt over the jailhouse shitter in thought—
Our time is bubbling there, history is being made.
Time opens the doors of minibuses, the gates of the earth,
to release the burning miners,
the sharp stones, the lusty oil.
There’s a little oilman now in every bed instead of lubricant,
Dropping his black mouth on my pillow,
Scuttling between cunt and cock,
We think we’re loving one another, but it’s him spurring on our passion.
In the corridors of state institutions time flows confidently.
The living Stalin has no trouble with it at all –
Sewing fur hats for the tourists, and for the Russians
putting together newspapers and websites,
Into our dead cavity – language pours out its vat of spit.
Poets are still dancing without tongues, father,
They want to offer up the remains of their body to the new struggle before it’s too late.
We eat blockade meat in the winter city each instant with our only son.
Irtysh is in my head and the gates open along the banks,
Along the banks a new race moves, firing up the oil tower lights.
The conveyor belt boils up new boots – black and puke-colored
in my blood vessels for the new times,
I’m no longer here, and there are no feet for these boots, and a bone
Has hammered our spirit to the earth.
In a fur hat slipping down over his eyes and a bulletproof vest
With his cock sticking out, ripping forth like an arrow into a better life
In the dark of the construction site flies my angel of history, my dear comrade.
His voice unprinted glows in this letter.
And so my hand under his sign in night matter
unconsciously comes to its own conclusion:
IMPERIALISM WILL BE DESTROYED ALL THE SAME!
THE REVOLUTION IS COMING.
— Translated by Joan Brooks
SEX IS A DESERT
in this settlement
everything empty only emptiness
sex – is a desert
coming home from work
desiring on the shopfloor
or in the machine
or at some other labour of language
feel it: there’s nothing there only
coming home from work
I’m writing a letter to the first boy
why’d you deceive me, you know there’s nothing there
only a desert
I’m in the desert alone
and desire fades
laying sex bare like vision
on the horizon is the body of a dry old man
this is my sex
this is my future
hundreds of animals will come and hump me
a tiger’s sperm leaps toward the clouds
monkeys lick my clitoris
but none of them will say:
‘sex is a desert’
in the garden of atavisms
lifting my skirt, leaning on the barbed-wire fence
barely discerning the face
in the wilds of bloody tears
I, weeping, will say: ‘look at what we were struggling for,
marching naked past parliaments,
penetrating with phalluses the offices of government.
no, there’s nothing there,
sex is a desert’
I love you
and your dead sex
still moves me
but when I love you
I feel: only a desert
the smooth temple of marriage bathed in wine gone bad
the raw looks of new lovers
the embraces of boys, covered with feces, tears
girls with black scars and bright dildos
baring their breasts before the river
of people dying
what were we struggling for?
why all these poems?
the dying camp of peoples in the depths of the analyst
you die with them, too, analyst,
because there is no hidden pleasure in the desert
masturbation and solitude
only the desert
crowds of furious men, turning in their zinc coffins
crowds of men fondling, flying on a varnished bomb
the industry of depravity in space stations, the science of art in the bathhouse
all for nothing, procreation is only part of the desert
Kathy, Kathy, wanking off death,
I can’t see your face, there’s no dialogue, no strength to tell you how things stand
for you, you’re not here, Kathy, the body has no identity in the bitter printed word
the rod in a thrown open bible,
student marches little puddles of blood in a dark toilet,
where my farewell lament
addressed faded out
to the dead students and their movement
with knives stuck in the hips
with the tender kisses of events
I want to say: here is the event
sex, sex is dead, it’s leaving us
in the heat of sex, in the atavism of desire
on the tip of lilies unzipped in shuffled tarot cards
we lay in solitude
to count the money we got
for sex, for pain, for death,
to count the bites and bruises from dead lovers
armies of little neomorts,
storming the beds of our mothers and our children
with a shaved crotch, almost blind
I lie alone
in this settlement
the dead cock that protrudes from every philosophy
Alain Badiou fucking theories, numbers,
a weeping member, the cock of greasy philosophy
what are you good for, if you could only save us
in the depth of short orgasms, waiting: where is the network of pleasure?
on the seashore in a billboard I don’t fucking care I’ll stay
with my beloved with biceps and seagulls, with a silk dress and a rose in my hair
if only I don’t have to see this
how in the desert they eat my body
sex-objects, workers and liars,
and writers with open skulls,
retromodernists, writing shrill messages,
I want to say that my pus pain and blood
are not your pus pain and blood
I request that you do not confuse these aesthetics, these worms, these beds
little stars of little doctors
little empty illnesses
knife wounds inside the rendezvous
feeding feeding feeding
at the edge of love
rome rome rome with a price tag with a shrill libido
o, who could
are caravans of slaves coming to meet us?
like a feminist sad sticking out of a camel’s ass
confusing all the arts without desire without aim you left us
you burned down a pair of sex shops you’re crying in the autumn park with a bottle of cheap wine in your hand
because it’s all for nothing because sex is a desert
because you can’t say no
even if women piss on all the cathedrals
and men fuck themselves with a machine gun
there will be death there will be sex there will be poetry
there will be roses enflamed
there will be cocaine in paper wrappers and breakfasts
in the barn in bed
thin nets with a baby
rubbers with toys
you, my love,
texts with confessions
I am masturbating
sand in our bodies,
and you, you, you,
my love, who lies:
‘youth, fury, knowledge’
the contemplating anus
the furious anus minimalism of forms
for Russians who are still being flogged
and who are happy because they were born dead
and what else are the dead to do, there is time and it will hurt
but there is also a lyrical line:
lying alone in this settlement
you borrow money from your comrades to get here
but there’s no road that will take you
fuck her and him, fuck others, but you won’t find your way to this settlement
talk to me through the wind through time but you’re not there
fuck me and you’re not here in this settlement
I’m lying alone
screaming: ‘sex is a desert’
the pluralism of opinions, contemplating: this is war,
crowds of people standing in front of the screen, where I say to you:
‘sex is war’,
but stay there alone and you will feel: sex is a desert
we fell dead
into the body of the enemy
of the lonely, at the edge, in the village
we grew up
into no one
So huge, this desert is so huge
— Translated by Joan Brooks
the sleepers wake inside the dream, the awakened
doze on iron fainting couches, in the burrows of moles.
the politics of absence plays cards with itself.
inside every sign is a hallway, straight, down which
you walk alone.
there’s no sense looking back. from fear
clenching your fists in your pockets, rearing your body up
to meet the darkness, for tomorrow
no trace will be found of this exodus.
rises over a heap of buildings, inside events,
where every day,
now certified brain-dead,
another one, another two roll over like waves.
“beauty is in the eye of the beholder,”
says the rightist to the earth, spitting. and he will be right—
if we tear out this eye and find out what’s there—
inside every means of action, of vision
there are tiny grains, difficult seeds.
if we gather them, even here, we might once again sow
trouble and wheat.
“This isn’t war,” said a guy with a half-shaved head in the metro
to another guy, who was shaved all the way.
“No, not war,” say the analysts, “just some kind of action.”
“The territory of the occurrence isn’t completely clear,” comrades affirm in the dark.
“War is different,” you said, embracing me. “You don’t have to worry,”
the government officials say with confidence on the live feed
on all the remaining channels, but the blood
is already breaking out, quietly, on their foreheads, near their auditory canals—
thin streams, until a fountain pours forth from their mouths.
to sit quietly, until we understand what’s going on. No additional clarity
and seventy years later, no additional clarity.
Anxiety, anxiety, circulating as drive. Multiple military conflicts
inside, in the mouth, in bed; just one touch and you collapse.
The streetlights blink with an insistent red, pushy-red flags
fill the streets of an unknown country. Dim corpses,
wrapped in St. George ribbons, sweet mummies in empty bars and restaurants
having a nice talk—about the possibilities of independent art and new forms,
about the posthuman world, about cheese and wine, which melt
our hearts, the hearts of the “backward.” While the virus of outskirts, the virus of borders
is already destroying their common sense, dear reason. Here’s a question—
How many sides are there in this war?
No more no less, no more no less. A jetliner with a glass bottom
crosses the borders of several countries. The leaders inside, bloated with fat and fear
look down, over black clouds—hatred and wrath—
finishing their final cruise. These demands raised against us
fall, humming, into a dark empty gullet.
Artillery pointed inside yourself. Foreign conflicts—in the myriad
incisions, failures, paralysis of memory, fear of birth—all collecting in a single moment.
They’ve brought in the dead birds of Russia and Ukraine on damp boards.
Currency skeletons on the death exchange, matter, a thick sediment in the world night . . .
Again I hear familiar songs,
Again the spring streets are filled with antifa militants.
Again I can love you,
Again and again, until the world night fills with peace,
And our victory is laid open.
There were so many factories just in our neighborhood:
The tire plant and the tire cord plant, then the oxygen plant
(which no one ever saw—just grey boxes, neither smoke nor flame),
The automation plant, the brick and asphalt factories, Power Plant No. 5,
The “Flight” factory, and Cosmic Avenue, and this time repeated as if in a memory—bathed
The ice cream factory and in the cemetery near our building
Еven а small factory that made coffins.
And there were a lot of schools because people had a lot of kids
And the boys all went into the army, and they
Probably didn’t even know why there was an army, and even more rarely
Heard the word “armed forces,”
Heard the word “history”
This was our history
It’s become just a story about
How the proletariat becomes the precariat
And how dark blocks of swampy sun melt
In the light of new jobs
It’s about how to act
If they have a knife, and at any moment it
And you don’t have anything except the desire to speak differently
But with them
In their language
But let’s talk about that later
After all, soon there will be nothing but the straight line of history.
And so, my father, as soon as he arrived in this city
He got a job at the “Flight” factory, which
For space rockets
(which the grandfather of my future husband
he used to go to the “Armenia” restaurant)
And after a bit of vodka in the evenings
They would play with the details on the empty shop floor, like kids. Mom
Taught in the polytechnic next to the factory,
People went on from there to work at another factory
Or—a little later—to kill (to love, to live).
And the “Flight” factory closed down, and they leveled the ground and put up new homes
Who are these people?
Then he worked at the “Natural Siberian Rubber” factory
He repaired pipes at a great height, and they were filled with terrible compounds
Аt night they—he and his friends—would steal scrap metal and take it through the “Oiler”
To the receiving station (the road glistening after the rain) on a big truck,
With chansonnières singing on the radio, Tanya Bulanova, Irina Allegrova, all those people
A pipe burst and the doorbell rang and they told us where our dad was
And literally that same morning he came back all bandaged up, he’d run away, run home
His stomach was burned with acid and covered with pustulating scabs
And there were two drops on his face too
Which now form a marvelous scar on his temple and next to his eye
But then that factory closed down too
I think maybe they sold it, and then sold it again (now to a western company)
And my father lost his job
And he came home to us completely different
And he forgot about fishing in the evenings behind the asphalt factory in our neighborhood
Where he and I would throw autumn whirlybirds in the maple grove, as thick smoke
curled across the sky
From the smokestacks of Power Plant No. 5
He also worked at the tire plant which was close to where we lived
But he didn’t work there for very long
In that place where black black tires rolled out for the cars of the future
For the people of the present, and as he thought—for our grandchildren, for your children
But I don’t know what’s happened to that rich, black factory now
Maybe it’s gone too
But the people, where are the people?
Because they stayed, didn’t they, they didn’t disappear along with the empty shop floors
And their bones aren’t resting under the crawler tracks of the bulldozers
They’re working somewhere, aren’t they, but it’s
Almost like they aren’t there.
Or are they?
Who are we talking to?
Also, when I was at school in the Cord settlement (that’s where the tire cord plant was
and the oxygen plant was somewhere nearby,
or at least there was a bus stop with that name,
but I never saw the plant itself—
only the grey cubes of the buildings without a single flame, without smoke)
. . . And so,
Even then I had the feeling that there would have to be
Some kind of conversation like this
That sooner or later it would happen, it would begin,
And I didn’t know who would be having it,
But I knew I wouldn’t have anything to say.
Could I possibly take part?
It’ll be like I’m somehow not here,
Though I am still there,
But how can we avoid the eternal aggression of taking part, taking their part?
It was in those days that the oil refinery still burned at the other end of town
and I’ve never seen a flame like that anywhere else
(how can I convey the intensity of that flame—should I say “fire,” “it’s insane,” “it’s inside
even when the forests outside Moscow were burning, and the animals fled
And the animals fled
Maybe that’s why I can never understand—how? what does it mean—to write
What can it be—to separate the wheat from the chaff for them
Aren’t they the ones—grains of wheat
Aren’t they the—stones
And if that’s true, then what else can I say to my father?
Or maybe—those backwards times,
When my father went off to do some other jobs at someone’s dacha,
He also did carpentry, and he
Cut off the fingers on his right hand with a power saw,
But they sewed them back on.
And he doesn’t remember anything about it.
I’m four years old (when the line of history is straightest)
We’re sitting on the curb bandages mom dad and me
Drinking peach juice
Next to the hospital bright flowerbeds with perennials
There will come a time when no one remembers this
Later I learned how to read music
But I never did learn how to hear that music
To make others hear it, I should say
On the outskirts in a building (hum, hum) right next to the Russian, Muslim, and Jewish
The place where they take the people from the factories,
And then bring them flowers and chocolates.
And we, the kids, we run in the rain in May among the graves and we eat the chocolates—
That’s how the straight line of history runs out.
And later in the yard behind the garages we summon up a witch,
And one girl even says she sold her soul to the devil for a bag of candy, some fish, and a new
There isn’t one single metaphor here
There isn’t anything that would make you want to read on
Obligatory or accidental
The events don’t rhyme at all and they happen every day
It’s just that a few words, a few things made me remember this
Do you still want to talk to me about it?
— Translation by Joan Brooks
the moving space of the revolution
you think you’re Nekrasov or something, bitch?
war machines all along the roadside
the functionary of the whip
took a taste
little dialogues going on in a black bar
in butovo, golianovo, khimki
halted by knowledge
bought on sale
but my beloved isn’t sleeping
what will you do
but my lover isn’t sleeping
what should I tell him
a boy in a freshly bought che guevara t-shirt
thrashing about incoherently in a jail cell
in his face you can see a beast, a bear,
pieces of a wolf, a machine gun report
the hallways of our houses are covered with slime
livelihood leaves no space for life
and no strength to choose death
so they choose struggle
washing the bodies of the dead with the red nightmare
buying your son a toy out of inertia
hinting at war
but my beloved isn’t sleeping
she’s crossed over the barrier
but my lover isn’t sleeping
he’s already setting everyone free
though he says: the liberation narrative is dead
and this autumn the sacrificial smoke of animals will rise into the air
this autumn a pale fire
we gave ghosts the keys to our apartment
people with no savings come out to meet us
this autumn rips your heart out
it screams, “where is your heart?”
and everything inside burns
the body is a travelling puppet show of criticism, fury, horror
and there’s no impulse anymore
to tear off one’s shirt, to tear away and stomp down the wet highway
these are the words of someone who’s never known age
for someone who
never loved and died
the dream is over, Lesbia, now it’s time for sorrow,
time to throw off our rings and dresses at the bloody feast
in honor of the memory of our sisters
let’s smash our glasses!
o, Lesbia, the time of war has come,
time to buy guns from thick-set men
and hide a blade or a shiv in your macbook case
and move with clenched teeth through the dark fascist ranks.
o, Lesbia, our time lies snuggled up in a coffin,
its victim’s skull is split
and blood is pouring down his face, an indifferent gaze.
can you feel how my heart beats when you put your hand
on my breast, how the night weighs on us?
the time has come to tumble out drunk onto tverskaya, onto peace avenue
and embrace each other.
it’s a time when love and politics are one and the same,
while police and hate are something different.
where open lectures give way to lessons in street fighting,
where frosty breath turns into imaginary free universities
and the olympic bear is on his knees,
and next to him a child is on his knees,
I can see a razor in your hand, Lesbia, your hair is tangled, your gaze is mad.
so stop – our heart will live again!
looking our parents in the eyes, through a slap in the face, cutting across the yard,
flashing through police cordons,
leaving graffitti and poems,
Lesbia, rise! the time has come to sing a joyous song,
spitting blood and the tooth fairy,
covering our faces with our hands, ripping up the asphalt,
until our brothers, our friends, our parents
stand in a circle and shout: “opa! opa!”
I don’t know what books I should read,
what kind of political struggle I should practice,
when everyone around is neither living or dead,
colluding, establishing the kind of order in non-being
where they drag a piss-stained dick across your lips
behind a pile of lumber in the schoolyard: “now we’ll teach you right”
tonight neither living or dead,
when you know nobody’s language,
rise, Lesbia! enough, get off your knees!
rise, beloved of mine, even if it means death
and this feast, terrible and seedy, this meaty fare,
these worms on the heads of the “black junta”,
these chants and demonstrations, these blows and sobs –
everything will rot in the abyss.
I want to be yours,
Will you come in the nighttime?
The Tales of Ise
I’ll write you: today
we bought ground beef and a little bottle of rkatsiteli
we had just enough – and right away
I become small, become bigger,
I’ve been in the world of these things a long time,
like them, I am for them,
and they are for me,
boxes, shelves, cars
I’ll write you: but I feel –
a wooden door creaking in the wind – and I feel a burning
I feel a campfire above the river becoming brighter,
and other poetic contingencies – sharper, clearer.
I will write you something unbearable.
I’ll write you: today,
arriving in moscow from siberia,
and finding ourselves in the center of town, in the Lovers of Fortune supermarket,
looking at the people, in ironed t-shirts on top of everything,
and I feel – no, not “class hatred”,
some kind of unhealthy awe, as if I’m five years old,
some kind of dull, passive disgust,
also because I am there among them (without generalizing, but looking
directly at each one, examining them more intensely),
Fortuna! I want to be more rageful even than Pasolini in his poems,
but the state of poetic form today and overall
the state of any kind of resistance today, in which
it’s impossible to allow that kind of rage –
it’s invisible, unproductive.
there is nothing we can offer this history but victimhood,
nothing to offer but suicide.
I’ll write you!
directly into the abyss,
where the angels dig the earth,
cuts through desire like a crimson bough.
this blood soaks straight into the letter,
and the roses under my window
are beating their drums at night.
— Translated by Joan Brooks
so lightly touching my tongue to your tongue . . .
the dream breaks off suddenly:
we buried our weapons in the ground
the lightning approaches with a crack
the advertising hoardings are about to crash down
pushing my tongue deeper to your tongue’s root
and the cool, sweet roof of your mouth
the stirring scent of spring and the rumble
of the first world war. then, without a subject,
they produce an individual utterance
with the question: who is speaking?
I: who is kissing us as long as
the dream lasts? we are trapped in history.
one bell and
puffs of smoke fall out into the open
look, my burning house, the summer right behind
mixed with blood
it knows in wide moments
where your pain is, how it hurts
to gather tears off a cheek, a collarbone, with your tongue.
at night, in the ditch, in bed, where the flashes are,
where blood speaks, you can cry with me,
close your eyes in distortion.
the closeness of thunder, when
the ribcage is white hot,
as if meeting by chance in the hallway, by touch,
running my tongue across your neck…
hearing orchestras in the distance, cannons,
falling into madness, is it possible to recall
when it all began, beyond any concrete markers of time,
like a bee swarm, it stings,
leaving one alone, to cry, and the other, inside this swarm,
falls to her knees.
vague sounds of distant night clubs, the bass notes
wring out reality like a wet sponge. migrant
skeletons in the half-dark move fresh earth in wheelbarrows.
some guys, angels no doubt,
are hanging about as the people pass, whispering something
in the language of the insane, masturbating in parks. spring is here.
to be in love without desire, to desire without
sense, when you knock at your neighbor’s door, like it’s your own,
but no one’s there, you drown out anxiety with cheap
cocktails, get mixed up with suspicious guys,
telling them everything like it is, though they could be Putin Youth members
or just sympathizers of the regime, while the ones standing in the dark
dressed similarly—may be Stalinists,
you ask them for a light.
you spit out blood, in the toilet of an internet café
you write a short post about it, and you scream into the little puddle of puke,
my revolution in Russia
in this peculiar place
on boards grown damp from rain and time
by abandoned gatehouses
and dusty shop windows,
where love hollowed out a heavy boat for itself
from my body, to sail off on a journey
across your cold seas,
to look into your white pupils.
making no effort to find light, or anything there that might bring you more strength.
lacking all possibility of loving more loves, with trembling hands
holding a teacup at breakfast, squeezing out, “leave, go away,”
locking yourself in another room or just hanging around in squares, in the metro
with a few bad books instead of foreign philosophy
trying to feel something out in the shadow of your decline
falling into insignificant sleep
scrambling in the shadows of what’s disappeared
where are you
have been looking for you for a long time
waiting for you for a long time
I want to send you an excellent gift,
when the heat pierces the dry trees,
it’s a western—the gravel, the brown dust quivers,
rising over this scorched place, when
troop carriers pass by the abandoned industrial zones,
strewn with red caviar.
Maybe I’ll send you a letter, make contact, get mixed up in it once and for all.
Here it is, the fire’s started—the doors of the clouds open wide, and out
roll the guillotined heads of the Bonnot Gang.
History, sing your wrath.
Are you that little girl in the sticky panties, who
stands in front of the mirror, putting on
powder and blush.
Are you that little girl
the one with her black and pink, icy gob wide open,
who climbed into bed with everyone
playfully singing a patriotic song,
rubbing anti-fungal creams on her feet,
you piss and spit into a special pot
by the bed.
Turn around. Think about my gift,
think about weapons in general,
only a couple of days ago—
there was no mention of blood.
But the party is still going on somewhere
Night, the hum of voices, meat roasting, a little beer…
History, sing your wrath!
Let everyone in Moscow now look at the black sky
with its huge moon.
Why is the rage in our hearts so watered down?
Where “Russian, be afraid” rules the ball, where no one sings of freedom anymore,
where 60% of the population is dying from the “small public deeds”
of a few compunctious bureaucrat intellectuals,
where my little friends, little boys, who were born in 1990—
The provincial cemetery is swollen with wrath.
Remember them. My gift will come in handy.
Tomorrow, or now—
it will serve you very well
— Translated by Jonathan Brooks Platt
There is a lot of talk now, in the United States at least, about political poetry and even revolutionary poetry, and what these are, and how to write them. The discussants should consider the work of a young Russian poet, Galina Rymbu.
I first came across a poem of hers shortly after she posted it on LiveJournal, a social network popular in Russia, on February 27, 2014. It was the day that Russian troops started operating in Crimea, and several days after the victory of the Maidan Revolution in Kyiv and the tawdry close of the Sochi Olympics. Russian media fanned the flames of patriotic hysteria and the Kremlin was clearly going to exploit Maidan to crack down on domestic dissent.
It felt strange that a work of this artistic sophistication and power could be composed and posted on the Web simultaneously with the events it responded to. Its viewpoint was that of the minuscule and very young Russian Left—roughly the same political alignment as those of the poet-activist Kirill Medvedev and of Pussy Riot, to cite figures known to some Western readers. But the poetry was different. It was Big Poetry, very much grounded in tradition but also propelling it forward, into the terra incognita of the now. It’s been a while since I read a poem that felt so real.
That poem has since appeared in English translation by Jonathan Platt. It can be read here, the middle one, starting with “the dream is over, Lesbia, now it’s time for sorrow…” I want to talk about the Russian original a little, and then say a few things about the present publication of Rymbu’s work in Platt’s translation in Music & Literature.
It is hard to formulate to an English-speaking audience why the Lesbia poem spoke to me so personally. The practices and traditions it incorporates are either alien or have a different significance than in the US. In Russia the “Western” “classics” that Rymbu alludes to are associated with Enlightenment values, and are consequently politically anti-government. For various cultural reasons, self-publishing on the Internet carries no opprobrium: the point of poetry is not to bulk up the author’s résumé. A poem, if it’s good, belongs to everybody.
Another potential difficulty is the poem’s subject: it is about the historical now, about finding yourself at the temporal point after which everything will be different. The question of history is not as natural a question for American poetry. On one level, the Lesbia poem thinks about the historical now via allusions to Catullus and, less obviously, to Horace’s ode on the death of Cleopatra—allusions that, by juxtaposing the Russian and the Roman situations, inter-illuminate them. On another level, by the third time Rymbu says the word “time,” we are hearing the word in the context of the same theme, that of designating historical change, in Mandelstam. Her “free verse” keeps evoking ancient meters, like in the echo of Sappho, the original Lesbia, in line four. But, despite Rymbu’s allusions to the historical past, the language she is working with is breathtakingly modern and fluid, with the kind of morphological play that affects the slang of inflected languages, technological terms used colloquially, and political clichés, such as the Putinist slogan “Russia rises from her knees,” that are flipped and literalized back into living speech.
There always existed an argument that left-wing literature needs to be simple in expression in order to appeal to the masses. Recent Russian poetry has also experimented with the lack of poetic devices and poetic language. But, in an interview she gave to her translator, Rymbu makes a compelling case for the contrary position:
It can seem like the oppressed have a simple language, that we should employ a series of reductions to work with this language in order to be comprehensible as poets and artists. But there is no such thing as a simple language, just as there are no simple emotions. Here [i.e. in the language of the oppressed—EO] everything is even more complex—a real rat’s nest of complexity made up of the languages of violence, ideological pressures, propaganda, biopolitical manipulations, survivals of the past, fantasies, hopes, and even certain seeds of “emancipation”—meaning, partially violent concepts that provide an intuition of what might lead the “simple people” to freedom. In this sense, the idea of “simple language” is really just a total syntactic, lexical, and discursive collapse, and it’s very hard to work with it, almost impossible.
If I get the argument here, it is that the educationally disadvantaged also speak in a manner marked by discursive multiplicity; that the discourses imposed on them from without to speak with their mouths are themselves rife with complexities and contradictions; and that, consequently, a contemporary poetry that is likewise composed of clashing discourses may lie open to them not despite but because of its complexity. It is a hopeful and an admirable position to hold, and it at least avoids the indignity of condescension.
The three poems translated for Music & Literature show the same linguistic complexity, although they are less of anthemic, barricade-music pieces than the Lesbia poem had been. Their main obsession is again the presence of history—which replaces the Muse in the sampling of the Iliad in one of the poems—in one’s life and one’s experience. Actually, to speak of history being “present in” something already implies a distinction the poems defy. Even one’s body is conceived as historical—and consequently fluid—in essence. It is not an object existing in the river of historical time but rather it itself is streamed through and formed by history. For there is no border between my body and the multiple processes of historical change, which are enacted through me, who am at once the mouth and the word of their polyglot glossolalia. If “revolution” is history projecting itself into the future, “my” revolution is history immanent in me as desire and anticipation. It is why the blood that comes out of the body is red.
— Eugene Ostashevsky, January 2016