From Chronicles of a King and other poems

Transitions №6

Author: Viacheslav Kupriyanov

Translated by Dmitri Manin


From Chronicles of a King



The King is flying on a magic carpet,
his courtiers crowded around him.
“Where are we going?” the King asks.
“We are heading to Lapland, Your Felicity,
we intend to engage them in talks
on ice nonproliferation beyond their borders.”
“That’s strange,” the King says,
“for ice drifts in the wind,
but we are the ones who make the weather.”
“But Lapland makes the ice, Your Felicity.”
“Magnificent. But when we’re passing over the mountains,
please be sure to call my attention to them.”
“Mountains, Your Felicity, kindly notice the mountains.”
“Magnificent! If all earth were covered with mountains,
we wouldn’t have to fly on carpets,
we could simply leap from peak to peak.”
“Exactly right, Your Felicity,
but there’s one problem with the mountains:
Lapland makes ice, and consequently, they
can lay claim to all the mountain peaks in the world.”
“Incredible! Incredible! As soon as
we arrive at our destination, remind me of my people,
their power, grandeur and name,
so I could, on behalf of my people, subjugate Lapland to my will.”
“As you will, Your Felicity,
and as for your people, they are people, 
and people can stand for themselves.”
“Magnificent. But when we’re passing over the sea,
please be sure to call my attention to it.”
“The sea, Your Felicity, kindly notice the sea.”
“Magnificent! If the earth were covered with sea,
we wouldn’t have to partition the earth with borders.”
“Exactly right, Your Felicity.”
“But because that’s not the case, pay attention
when we are crossing the border,
remember to hand out fur hats to everyone,
so the foreign winds won’t hurt our ears.”
“Aye-aye, Your Felicity.”
“By the way, what’s that haze over on the horizon?
Could that be the enemy forces
beating their magic carpets
in violation of all the tacit agreements?”
“Not to worry, Your Felicity,
the horizontal service will bring things in order there.”
“So where are we now?” the King asks.
“Flying the preplanned route,” the courtiers reply in chorus
that becomes a paean to the elements
whose beauty is precisely 
that they have to submit to us.
But the King asks again, apprehensively:
“Who are we, though?”
“Oh, we are justice itself,” the courtiers chant,
“We are justice incarnate, and all hopes lie with us,”
the King chants in accord with the courtiers,
until their breath becomes visible,
and then he commands
to hand out fur hats to everyone,
and the chanting dies down, muffled by ear flaps.
“Where are we going?” the fur-hatted King asks.
“We are heading to Lapland, Your Felicity,
we are heading to Lapland to make weather,”
but the King can’t hear anything anymore.



The King spends the day in grave distress,
then another day, and another.
The courtiers are asking
what troubles him so much,
and the King answers:
“We need to cheer up Princess Laughnot,
because she won’t laugh
at what we laugh at.
Everybody has a carpet,
some have airplanes,
but carpets don’t fly in the sky,
and airplanes don’t always land softly.
Everyone has what he has for now,
but no one knows what’s coming,
so we urgently need a magic tablecloth,
and to get all that in order
we might need a magic cudgel,
for the people, as well as the court.
In short, I suspect we need a fool,
an Ivan-the-Fool who hasn’t yet turned entirely into John, 
if certain problems are to be solved.»
the first courtier exclaims,
and another one, and another,
“If you need me, here I am!”
“No,” the King shakes his crowned head, 
“such a fool isn’t worth a plugged nickel for me,
I need a fairy-tale fool
who can fish a submarine out of an ice hole
and make it fulfill his peaceful wishes,
and he doesn’t have to ride upon an atomic stove,
but I desire something to warm my heart,
and something to cheer everyone up.”
“Yeah, it’s not easy to find such a fool,”
the first courtier says.
“Can’t find such a fool even with a flashlight these days,”
another courtier says.
“No such fools,”
the third one says,
and they say all together,
“We are no such fools,
though wouldn’t it be nice if something warmed the heart,
and something cheered everybody up.”




Every living thing wants to amplify
From an amoeba to a T-Rex
From a bacillus to a wretched human
To amplify what it already has
And beyond that to obtain
What it is still missing
No one is content to remain in bondage
Of one’s own extent
And no one ever has enough freedom
The thought of freedom is brought about
By the sight of an open sea — freedom! — but then

A faltering fear of boundless space
That the abyss of the sea multiplies
By the abyss of the sky
The fear of depths
Not to mention the fear of soaring
Or something else also pregnant with fear:
To suddenly see yourself as a russian colombo
To discover america beyond the shining sea
To populate it with russian cossacks and gold diggers
And then out of this russian america
To contemplate russia and europe
That is: are we or are we not europe?
And on the basis of this american disposition
To decide that rather than think about europe
It’s better to make europe think as we direct it
That is with respect to the ancient greeks’ dialectics
But then where is a better place for a monument to the unforgettable freedom
If not in this russian america
Surely not in ancient greece
Where a thinker who wanted to think freely
Had to maintain at least a dozen slaves
Each of which perhaps harbored
An unborn new epictetus or aesop

What else would we like to amplify?
This earth and this starry sky?
To multiply the number of slaves on the earth or waves on the sea
The number of stars on the still-free sky?
And could it be that stars somewhere
Or someone on the visible heavenly bodies
Is eager just to see me as a slave
A worshipper of stars and a bookkeeper of galaxies?
And even in the night sky
Who has more freedom? —
The steady immobile constellations
Awaiting who knows what moment of stardom
Or the meteors emerging who knows from where
And flaring hastily up
These fugitive slaves from the plantations
Of the invisible starry sky…



Walt Whitman, a titan of Iron Age reduced these days to a cross of Superman and Batman,
who fathomed the essence of all metaphysics, but didn’t live to see the new world order,
there you stand propped on skyscrapers, the still-undestroyed Twin Towers,
you are still an epitome of a magnificent poet, singing free verse hymns
to the one-size-fits-all freedom of America,
to her prairies reaching out to the deserts of Araby, Libya and Sinai,
to the Rocky Mountains looming large over all the yet undiscovered
Pamirs, Balkans, Caucasus and Urals,
you sing praise to her oceans lapping the shores of Europe and Africa, India and Atlantis,
to her ships, the iron armadas roaming the waters and roving the depths,
you sing praise to her skies that rise ever higher, even threatening the stars,
where her steel condors soar, in the skies riddled by tomahawks
that fly away farther and farther into the dark of space,
you sing praise to her cities awaiting the new Huns,
cities that have never been ravaged by enemy bombs,
(oh your fabled love, love between man and fellow man, city and city,
people and people!)
you sing praise to her citizen, a progeny of Goliath and Sysiphus, who stands as proud as
who supports with one hand, like Atlas, his private property, the Moon,
who directs with the other hand the march of obedient peoples, never mind walls and borders,
who survived all catastrophes unharmed, who avoids new catastrophes and wields them as a
he stands, like you do, his feet treading his private property, the Earth,
which is still whole with its axis askew, on which every inch is essential
to his vital interests,
he deftly directs the Earth on its way, avoiding
the terror of all-consuming doubt…


Until the high-precision instruments kill me
with electricity in the barbed wire
I bethunder the world with the power
                                                      of my electronic voice
singing my electronic body
shot through with sharp rays of invisible light,
packed tight with the particles of its own shadow,
the shadow that swoons inside its own body,
a body that passes through all the worldwide networks unseen and unscathed,
a body absorbed in itself, sane and sensible, sober, well-tempered,
drifting among other such self-connected bodies,
I sing the body that sends succinct and precise signals
to all other bodies whose souls are comfortably lodged in them,
dancing, singing and accepting you,
and nurturing their singing electronic souls.
Oh my body, so noble and impregnable,
successfully fitting within and filling the space assigned to it,
where another content body can readily see your satisfied body
legally obscuring all the earthly landscapes,
cheerfully submerging into the sea that you have yet to drink up,
confidently inhaling the sky that you have yet to eat,
while this sky inevitably fills up with your earthly dream,
the electronic body’s dream of ever more advanced,
                                                             ever more refined technologies
carrying you higher and higher through insignificant alien stars
into whichever newer and newer dimensions,
overcoming all that is seen and bypassing the unseen,
where now and always and forever keeping watch over beloved you
is your personal trusty bodyguard angel.



A Roman soldier goes to kill Archimedes
The nobody who dared to draw circles
On the ground that is rightfully ours
And will never be bounded by a circle
A Roman soldier with a sword goes to kill Archimedes
A Germanic warrior wielding Greek fire
Goes to kill Archimedes
As if it were he who swayed the earth with a lever
Whoever wielding whatever
Wielding Patriots and Tomahawks
Goes to kill Archimedes
As if it were he who displaced ocean water
Anyhow it had no effect whatsoever
On history following an Archimedean spiral
Yet the earth was properly subdivided
Into circles and spheres of influence
But this murder hasn’t changed history
And in fact lots of other murders
Had no effect on history whatsoever
Though which history are we talking about
And whatever we ended up with now
What kind of history is that
Even if it does follow a spiral



The atom sleeps furiously at the edge of its microworld
Lulled by its pluses and minuses
It dreams of
A panicked flight of electrons
Reminiscent of the way wise brains drain
Towards easy money
The atom is scared
As if it were losing its atomic weight
On the verge of the total collapse of all elements
Precipitating absolute darkness
It dreams of
Being trapped in the amber of the universe
Like a bee no longer making honey
It dreams of the revolt of the critical mass
Against any personality
That disagrees with the deadweight of inertial masses
It dreams of a frightened pure atomic bomb
Dropped by a lonely hydrogen atom
On the pallid periodic table of elements



perfect the art of sharpshooting
take your aim precisely 
so you don’t hit anybody
not a man for he’s on his way to a woman
not a woman for she’s on her way to a child
not a child for he doesn’t yet know where to go
not an old one for he has no desire at all
to meet someone else’s death
hone to perfection
the art of bombardment
it is so difficult
to miss a city or spare a village
to avoid wiping from the face of the earth
another uncommon countenance
perfect this art for the sake
of your own life and the lives of others
for if bullets and bombs don’t hit you
and if you still manage not to step on mines
it is only 
because your perfect adversary
is unwilling to yield to you
in this most striking art