Author: Yulia Fridman
Translated by Dmitry Manin
* * *
“Musketeers, mommy! The Four Musketeers
Gliding over the potholed avenue, riding forth!
Porthos’ cape is worn, but his buff sleeve shimmers,
D’Artagnan mounted on his yellow horse;
Athos, as pale as death, looks like he’s hurt,
I think I can feel the cold of his hand,
And Aramis, clear as the moon, floats over the courtyard…”
“Step back from the window, my dear, you understand?”
“Mom, but if I stay back, how will I see
The ray that alights on the blade like a snowy bird,
The rapier, like a needle, swinging up rapidly,
The pavement where a cobblestone suddenly stirs!”
“Dear boy, it’s not Paris, step back while alive and well,
The glass will shatter when they begin to shell,
Hide in the bathroom – no, the shelter’s a better bet –
You’re too young, you’ve never died, not yet.”
The boy feels sorry for mom, takes her by the hand,
On their way he knocks his head on a low lintel
(Mom’s in a hurry); blown off his feet by the blast, he lands
In the corner. The sirens wail blandly and dwindle.
The shell splinters fall short, but the room is a disaster,
The bed is covered deep in glass and plaster,
The sound system is smashed to smithereens,
The Musketeers survey the godawful scene.
“Plague,” says the rider whose face is as pale as snow,
“How’s the boy doing?” Plague smiles, “Famine, will ya toss
Some bread in the granary?” “You’re not on parade, don’t boss
Us around,” War says, peering through the window.
* * *
This is a new era for us to be living in,
History teachers drink themselves to oblivion,
Women pour through rolls of dead names,
The words “no” and “war” these days
Are forbidden from circulation
Under the wartime regulations.
But the teacher of rhetoric who bought his booze before noon
Assures us that this era will end rather soon,
His gaze fixed somewhere in the distance, he discusses
The possibility that it’ll end with a scarf or a snuff-box,
Or that the nuclear mushroom will aim the sunset’s blast,
And his blank stare falls into the empty glass.
I can’t sleep a wink, be it daylight or darkness,
On the other side of the iris fire rages wild,
Though there’ve been no explosions in Moscow for a while,
Save for the sunset knocking again on the glass.
You know, today the woman expected guests,
A Kharkiv family, mom, dad and a little son,
She’s just served the table, and the phone rings: hold on,
They were caught in gunfire – and she stands in this eerie emptiness.