Transitions №5

Author: Yulia Fridman

Three poems translated by Dmitry Manin

* * *

Anna tends her books like the graves of parents or siblings,
Anna looks from behind the glass and marvels
At a wasp and its victim, dragging and struggling,
At two travellers breeding love in the heat of travels.
Anna prepares a retort in English to Kipling
And ponders the nature of evil.

Books smell of dust, and the shelves cast shade for refreshment,
On a three-legged stool, a flower grows dead and dried,
Anna switches her e-book on with merely a squint,
Kolobok the dough ball rolls towards death on its side —
That’s a type-four plot, a god’s suicide,
Her voice trembles, and Anna whispers, “please don’t.”

“There’s no running from fate, either way you’re bust:
Gobbled up by the forest gang or your own old witch.” —
“What did you say it with?” — jaws are clenched with lust,
But Kolobok doesn’t know what he said it with.

* * *

The baby snake says, “My life is boring like a cartoon,
Grasses ripen around me and a brushwood path winds
Through the mire; it’s marsh all around and roads strewn
On it twist like snakes, like they are of our own kind.”

“You know,” — says the snake — “in the past snakes used to be bigger,
Even longer than filmstrips, and snakes had considerable girth,
And the tracks they left in the grass were thicker:
Perhaps, snake ancestors hugged closer to the earth.”

The baby snake says, “I’m bored looking at stars,
Wound around a flimsy stalk in the creaky cane.” —
The snake says, “These are simply night nests, they are,
Birds look down from the sky when you mention their name,

They remember the times when enormous snakes
Ate their chicks (terror makes their eyes open wide),
Sang them songs (birds listened, speechless and shaking),
And stood up on their tails, rocking from side to side.”

The baby snake says: “You don’t listen to what I am saying,
The prince’s skull is too tight for me, and the horse’s head
Too narrow, I’m tired of eating the baby starlings
And voles, I’m fed up with you not hearing what I said.”

The snake answers, “Long ago, we snakes had ears,
We had ear for music, sweet voice and fragrant venom,
We had enormous mice and eggs of beefy killdeers,
And — they say — we drank the milk of humans,

But these days, spring hatchlings dispute every word you say,
They are mean and cross and leave the nest in July,
Leave the house empty, never lie in wait for the prey,
And there’s no telling how the vagabond prince may die.”

* * *

Alentine was the name of the doll,
She was lanky and red in the face,
And she reeked of camphor oil and menthol
So the passersby winced and gave way,

What a doll, what a hole-riddled scarecrow,
Hey you hayhead, don’t burn on the coals,
Bare your stupid round eyes dressed in straw,
Real life is beginning for dolls,

Festive streets try on, cheering and laughing,
Pretty dresses of a world conflagration,
Evil Denikin squints in his coffin,
No one gets the upper hand on this nation.

There’s not much that Alentine understands,
She remembers a great big river,
A round river, no beginning or end,
And a boat with a bulky boater.

What is death — a wild chariot ride,
A trolley rushing forth on the rails,
Emptiness on the edge of the mind,
Now for reals.

If you’re a doll with rope-knitted knees,
All forlorn, dress torn and mud-smeared,
Only life is a source of uncertainty,
Death is clear.

You were friends with the best girl in the world,
So read this book front to back,
When she was seventy-odd years old, this girl
Died of a heart attack,

Now you know what’s at the end of this street
Where crowds are out of hand
And smoke fools around in the wind, the sweet
Smoke of the fatherland.


Illustration by Maria Kazanskaya: The Doll Alentine

Three poems translated by Anna Krushelnitskaya

* * *

Now, should you get some ink — it will be white;
The tracing round the edge will be precise,
Encircling ripples surfacing through ice,
White decibels on which snowflakes alight,

Splayed fingers of the frozen hazel hedge,
A yellow trace, a spot of doggie fun,
A shadow fading, melting through the edge
In mist, alone, accompanied by none,

It will arrive, succumb and then disperse
By snowdrops lining snowy banks of winter,
Right where they rend the winds and hems a-splinter
To teach a class in sketching in reverse:

They’ll bring the pen to lips and lick it twice
To sort the feathered emptiness of quills
In blooms of plums and Blanca cherry frills;
The tracing round the edge will be precise.

December 23, 2021

* * *

They left for the woods, for the charcoal black woods, for the blackness —
Farewell, Theodora!
Platters and trays all aboard for their final foray, trackless —
Farewell, Theodora!
Oh, that samovar, baby-smooth, not a single rough spot, oh,
That laundry vat with its ladles, fetchers of water,
It’s a big-eared one, although
There’s no head. And that hollow vat
Has split — splat!
Oh woe.
Have you known sorrow now, Theodora?
In the loathsome domain of your now-barren home
It is only your heart that leads you around to roam
Wall to wall, to that wall in which, instead of a door,
A window is cut, but, Theodora,
Out that window you won’t see the moon on a celestial tray;
Humans can’t hear super-stellar silverware tolling away,
What with the tables they sit at, the tea they pour — oh!
Theodora! Now, have you known sorrow?

October 5, 2019

* * *

Hey, hey, he says, your passport’s the wrong suit.
If you have never been to hell, then it’s like you have never been!
And he claps me on the shoulder sharp as he could shoot;
You cannot leave right away, you would make a scene.

In hell, he says, you live through a second, and when it ends,
Right then it immediately arrives again,
Pain plays sensitive chords on your nerve endings,
Thoughts are scant and no words can be gained.

In hell, he says, all are equal: the human, the warthog,
The maiden without any clothes and the sea urchin;
You’d press a demon to heart for a spoonful of water
Harder than you’d press in heaven the tenderest virgin.

In hell, shadows lie different; all kinds of organs of sense
Mutate so the only thing they can ever sense is pain;
You pay to get some relief but your empty expense
Account is dead like her pink peroxide-bleached mane.

Memory burns like fire and any motion singes:
It’s hell, even air is fire on fire, even air.
There’s hope’s empty holster, toxic shock and cinders,
And the eye like a funnel with black flames in there.

I mean, out of here you can’t lead anyone back:
We do take bribes, though this argument has no purpose.
Where’s your ticket? — I get angry, and he gets whacked
With the whole cold deck of my traveling papers.

I won’t keep hold of the slippery hand, I’ll get lost
In the four scalding walls, and the narrow bridge will recede, and
I won’t lead anyone out, can’t afford the cost
Of the bribe, so we stay. Your instructions will not be needed.

June 20, 2019