After the War, in the West

By POLINA BARSKOVA

Translated by VALZHYNA MORT

 

Old Lady Gippius
of a tumorous Adam’s apple
from a damned balcony
watches
an officer fool with a puppy.

She is bewitched
a gray form
as Verlaine would have it
a gray rose
that sparkles and alarms
letting out a cartilaginous moan
instead of speech.
Her deformed gray matter
clatters and things add up.

If this land (don’t name it in vain)
is descending into simple-souled
hell, whoever arrives
with a sword or—atop a sword—
his sword will be sweet.

For him, let our words
clank like false dentures.
For him, this bankrupt gray head.
For him, raised glasses of gone sparkling glory.

“You, Judas, fucked into all holes:
this century will wipe the mess you left.
Like documents, it will burn and tear shadows.
A Paris summer (of which no memory exists),
square old men
are making ugly gestures.
Swift, like pickpocketers,
we tuck and alter
the meaning of their utterly impossible words.”

Geopolitics! Teutons at the border!
Fire and infestations of Reich!
Old Gippius feeds birds who eat out of favor.
Under her, the bench creaks.
Beside the bench, they who have gone
over ooze, over ice
into self-damnation,
into the grave in the air.
They, who drank
pure corpse milk
of the Blockade, of Holodomor,
who having escaped the NKVD dens
completed their homework:

rid of your home, leave no trace,
adopt new facial habits,
in a questioner
next to the post-war cities
put a fat dash/a tick-bird
that chirps from a safe distance:

we are from nowhere, we are
nobody, we made one bad choice,
failed students in the unforgiving school of darkness.
Watch this clean-freak of an epoch
wipe us like dust—to the last speck of us,
a lesson to others not to look and cry, a creature
plagued, marked.

 

Polina Barskova is the author of ten books of poetry, including The Zoo in Winter and This Lamentable City. Her anthology of unofficial poetry from the Siege of Leningrad, Written in the Dark, received an AATSEEL Prize for the best translation project. She was born in Leningrad.

Valzhyna Mort is the author of Factory of Tears and Collected Body. She has received the Lannan Foundation Fellowship, the Bess Hokin Prize from Poetry, the Amy Clampitt Fellowship, and the Burda Prize for Eastern European authors. Born in Minsk, Belarus, she teaches at Cornell University.

 

[Purchase Issue 16 here.]

After the War, in the West

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