Galina Rymbu | Devoid of signs (fragments)




devoid of signs, not men not women
beyond categories and tribes


desolate landscapes 

devoid of the power of recognition
their memories are short

and remembering matter impregnating spaces
disconnected from the bodies that inhabit the disaster zone

( . . .)

this is the book of decay, it loads the limits of memory,
a plane bearing the shards of creation, devoid of signs,
that are swept by the winds of transfiguration.

devoid of signs – a mother and the vein that pulses in her neck.

a small, cramped bar. its walls are painted black.

drowsing while he takes the broken face from the wall; I love you
love what you do hurling your body at the wall and raising a second
sky of sand above a wasteland of desire with a glance devoid of
signs and the next day when you wash vegetables in a red stream
of water and at night when the sorrow of movement flushes the life
from our shared body towards the evil of perception

( . . .)

a football pitch transformed by a blast;

women gather at the edges around resonant craters ripping
through the earth,

some photos from the gathering,
shown afterwards in the main building below the roar of an air

a microscopic, slimy scroll and how it fell out of me together
with the remnants of the umbilical cord. it’s not a scroll not a
woman not a body,
but something that looks at the remnants in the water all mixed up
with blood, waiting for a call from the centre,

where scuffles break out

( . . .)

a wellspring of meetings. crude oil shaping forms of writing,
driving vocal matter from village to village,
a dream between industrial sheets, a levitation of love inside an
empty billboard;
two of a kind, nailed to a stand by a kiosk, whisper, cowering near
the earth;
flâneuse, she exhales earth, her inner village, stripped of reason,
where birds raise a wall o’er the river and serpents conjure foam
from the mire,
where fungus roots sing of the gloom of our forms, and
the ancient mathematical brain of the forest
giant marijuana leaves on the shirt of a deadened body;
a hunter with a lens, weary from his feeding tube, moves towards
wild coal, the ringing crater of an empty mine where shadows of
workers approach the milk dispenser; new energy,
new parliament, an ecological fascist with an old-school hi-fi
lumbers hastily to a double date at a bombed-out street cafe,
a miserable abuser – a poet with a pink book, in crude oil trousers,
in the shadow of dwindling communication; the skeleton of a bird
on the steps of a corner shop
in the quarter of hope, near where scuffles broke out;
the iron lingerie of women who pine in the suburbs,
saints with beer, playing with balls made of memory matter
on a golden screen,
devoid of signs

( . . .)

what are you doing with that book? eating it like I eat you. making it
empty space – like something with a severed palm on a cave wall
that strikes up a dialogue
, illumined through a gaping crack by the
vulgar light of sunset, brushing a curled lock of hair from a bumpy
forehead; ‘this is the stuff of evil,’ it said, nestling against the wall
of the building, peeling off a leather coat, ‘we must sip air from the
book’; laughing, she inserted a resonant gap into his red body,
casting old bandages from her pubis, and she was radiant with
tender words; they washed food in the setting sun and dragged the
dead to their trees; we slept, covered in camps of mushrooms and
living creatures, like the ancient mathematical brain, oblivious to
the dreaded binary code and its wars . . . and sacred chiroptera
cried above us, a mind erupted like a volcano

( . . .)

something changed in the book of decay as we watched a film at
my mother’s flat
opposite, streams of filth flowed from the sky into a locked

a cry, under the helipad, below,
and my son  hammers the glass with a spoon, uttering words
devoid of signs

( . . .)

fields from the placenta. tiny demon-drones suspended over
stagnant water. grey cell-rooms.

a faint noise in civilian ranks;
a soldier who seized a tow boat, pure alcohol
in his throat, and Kharkiv, the aid collection point.

a women’s squat in a godforsaken town, a mouth scooping up sand
instead of water;
a swarm of matter, gnawing at a symbol; a glacier’s mind freely
singing the earth;
Algeria’s above the earth and the labour camps shift:

Syria’s revolution* has begun

( . . .)

the Ainu, muffled up in snowy ditches, draw the shrapnel of guns to
themselves with words of a dead tongue.
my body too, tethered to a snow plough, draws itself to them.

deer covered in crude oil watch streams of water, masticating
rotten grass,
when one – devoid of signs – replaces many, when shimmering
flares of nations whistle above the water, vanishing in the hostile
environment, then bodies are falling, growing stiff and numb.

‘we’ll go further without nations’ – a red library is burning in a
hidden village. it
draws these words from within and thrusts them into the book of

( . . .)

what matures the night? evil that strips away age.
noise organisms hanging over destruction, devoid of signs
and hidden by meaning:

all must be checked. all is approved: sated and weary from the
message of the book of decay, we sleep.

my son is bound to me by the black cord of the psyche.

stars effervesce over this quarter, emitting noxious fumes,
emitting the spirits of the dead and their singed uniforms,
the skeletons of cars and old machinery hiss in the night clouds.
empty information
has colonised our minds. what’s happening between flesh and
blood? there is no flesh and blood. only mixed symbols, their
economy, the horror of human contact, the faint jerking of places.

what makes my son so remote and forces my mother to writhe so
strangely, painfully by the wall,
when the cell of a room is unlit since the bill went unpaid?

the world is shelterless now. unable to migrate, why do we wake
up, why are we silent, bathing crumpled banknotes with our tears





My father sleeps on the floor, and we’re waiting
for his salary, like a miracle, like the messiah, like when I was little,
like the end of the world,
when we’ll all eat ourselves sick and die
and we’ll see the flashing of a world without time – that’s how we
in the evenings pressing our stares into the one window
of our one room, which is covered in grey foil to keep out the
summer sun;


my father sleeps on the floor

in the kitchen, and mom and me are in the room with my son, and
like our breathing is synchronized, and we hear each other when
we wake in the night;

they’re clearing the smokestacks at the power station again, and
their hum, and sometimes the roar
of the biggest stack, spreads across our neighborhood – as if it’s
jumping out of the sky and racing across our rotten earth,
like an evil spirit. and August
drives its blue bulls across the dark sky, along the nervous hills
of landfills, overgrown ponds, and the palaces
of provincial supermarkets – toward our strange communities,
crammed into a single building, a single swarm of intellect,
washing the earth with our dumb tears,
as we wait for my father’s salary and curse,
because it still hasn’t come, and we can’t just kill the people
or ask them to go away; because sometimes
we want to kill each other,
when August rips your brains apart with its black glow,
when the trees come alive and embrace
the drunks at the edge of town, singing them lullabies, like little
setting them down quietly into dumpsters,
when the old cat in the kitchen is gnawing at dried dill and howling
for who knows what
something animal;

we want to kill each other, like loved ones, but we go back to sleep,
and even in our dreams mom and me are waiting for papa’s salary,
so we can buy shampoo and shower gel,
so we can take my son for a ride on the boats,
so we can get a bus into town and see the garden show,
and so we can finally just eat what we want and eat and eat,
as long as there’s time; and papa is sleeping in the kitchen and
his lungs don’t open like a crimson flower, like in poems, but
and slosh inside,
and the night smells torment his skin;
he’s asleep and he doesn’t know anything about his salary,
he’s talking in his sleep, saying something in Moldavian to his

© Translation: 2019, Joan Brooks 
From: Cosmic Prospect (forthcoming)
Publisher: Ugly Duckling Press, New York, 2019





there is a monster living in my ovary; complex, but consisting of
embryonic tissues. it makes itself known in the night,
and I wake up, I want to do something to myself.


if it was certain that one could still fight when dead,
my little twin, grown into a small organ,
would be free – in the earth or the organics of ash . . .

I think we can caress the stones and fix our gaze on the trees,
only when we are gone.

time is silent, folded in on itself.
and Cosmic Prospect rumbles outside the window,
spitting drunks out onto dirt paths. I dream
that my breasts are rotting, and I’ve finally become a woman . . .

and all the animals of the world let me pet them.

before going to bed my son shined the flashlight
from my phone on my stomach. he thinks he can build a rocket
and fly off into space, and I can’t explain to him that space
only exists for the select few, and not even now – but only potentially.

that the cosmic buildings people are already building here, on
and the robot exhibits he loves so much,
and the complex gadgets for producing machine poetry that the
poets have, are only made for the few, in the name of the few,
who have already stopped being people, not matter, but the cloudy
swarm of systems,
growing like tumors in our midst.

that there are people who can’t get a passport,
that there are people who can’t leave and go somewhere else,
they lie like sick monsters, in packed pits of work and hunger
and their speech is spare.

that heaps of governments, like the heaps of trash on our Earth,
that there is something else besides time, pressed into rooms,
that there is something else in bodies, besides words and thoughts
. . .





the black sun arises in place of the day one, carving the ground, we
company; exodus – we walk by the threads of light, uncommoned,
outplacing in thought.
my phone almost out of charge, I write this to record: the brink of
as if sticky foam tangling in the corners of eyes.
we have reached the limits.


none who is loved will open their eyes.
none who has lived through it will be the same.

red faces among jets of oil . . . scorched buildings . . .

I knew lands, where from thirst they lick the salty yellow earth,
where they kill without looking at blood,
and lands, where they save air, taking pleasure in the glare of
solar batteries,
and drink chilled prosecco under a rainbow dome . . .
we have reached the limits.

the last insects at the different ends of the earth pollinate a red
brown bud:


my phone is almost out of charge, I write to
record all this: the brink of night
is the other, with others, and again
the book of decline blasted open,
next to fire.

© Translation: 2019, Anastasia Osipova, Marieta Bozovic and Eugene Ostashevsky
First published on Poetry International, 2019


Rymbu wants her poetry to do more than describe the place she has left behind. If her poetry can be said to be about any place, it’s the milieu, in Deleuzian terms: a space where all manner of rhythms, histories, and stories are intertwined. Her work thus does not serve as an escape from the world, but as a way into it: an attempt to unearth almost forgotten memories, old habits, and older structures, to address the rivers drying up and the life that is withering – all the empty factories and deserted digs of the collapsed Soviet empire and of the predatory capitalism of Russia today. Among these bleak and dystopian ruins, Rymbu goes in search of love and intimacy. Though these “zones of defeat”, as she calls them in Time of the Earth, are devastated, she wants to make them inhabitable again.
Her poetry depicts a kind of life that transcends the repetitive and violent exclusion, exhaustion, and exploitation of bodies and worlds that define our society. Rymbu’s Time of the Earth can thus also be read as a utopian gesture. The title not only refers to the Anthropocene age, as geologists and climate scientist call the current period, in which humans, after centuries of exhausting our natural resources, have irrevocably marked the very soil; it also forces us to re-examine our relationships to the ground beneath us and to each other. The Anthropocene age is often described as a great acceleration, an era in which the long timespans of geology catch up with humanity’s brief spell and dethrone us as the center of our universe. What Rymbu’s work does is just a little different, as she tells the story overshadowed by that of the Anthropocene: she does not focus on humankind as conqueror, but on all those, not even just humans, who have been trampled and abandoned by the inexorable march of progress. Her poetry foregrounds unfamiliar rhythms that are slow, polyphonic, beyond the human; these very rhythms, Rymbu’s glorious poems suggest, can sensitize the reader to a life lived amidst the ruins of what we once called civilization.
© Frank Keizer (Translated by Florian Duijsens)




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