28 July 2015

1937 — 1947 — 1977

1937 — 1947 — 1977

The dacha’s fast asleep. Out back,
caped in his brave Caucasian cover,
the Georgian elder, hunching over,
puffs on his native home-grow bacc-
-y. Worried. Seized by an attack
of sadness. Here he’s raised a daughter,
now Jewboys have her in the sack.
Poster with smiling Mamlakat.

That Bessarabian slice he got,
that watery bowl of soup, the Baltic—
with molars smoke-cured by tobacco
he’s managed to grind down the lot.
No end of rellies need a slot.
Enemies buried. Toadies quaking.
A play called Tanya. Novel, Sot′.
Thou didst create this flesh, O God.

Life has got better. Happier too.
Three cheers! The Soviet Union’s building.
The troikas have wound up their business.
You’re Jewish — no one gives a hoot.
Suvorov kids in bullfinch suit.
There’s bread and butter, caviar, bottles.
‘Why don’t you take this hundred rou…?’
I’m sad it’s gone now, even though...

‘No hands under the blankets, titch!
Then you might grow up just like Khomich.
Don’t f*ck with Daddy’s change, just watch it!
No tears about some little glitch’.
‘Don’t blame the war for all your shit’.
(‘There really was one, Yerofeich?’
‘We must have dreamed it, Spotykach’.)
Grandad’s an army doc, a catch.

From thinking back I’m feeling bright.
Soon I’ll be too far gone to rescue.
Let me go home, to that extensive
apartment that deletes delight.

(Translation © 2015 G.S. Smith)

[From Чудесный десант (The Miraculous Raid), 1985]

Translator's Notes: This is probably the most allusive of all Lev Loseff’s poems. For non-Russians, and probably also for Russians not of his generation, the following points may clarify some of the obscurities. Despite the implication of the poem’s title, the subject matter departs from chronological order.
The verse form unmistakably alludes to a famous virtuoso lyric by Boris Pasternak, ‘Second Ballad’ (1930), but does not reproduce it exactly. Loseff lays bare the allusion by re-using Pasternak’s first line, and then addresses public events of the Stalin period, before turning to the private world that Pasternak deals with exclusively in his poem. Losev is much more intimate, though.
Stalin’s daughter Svetlana (1926-2011) had an affair in 1942 with the film director Aleksei Kapler (1903-79), which resulted in his being arrested for ‘anti-Soviet activity’ and given 5 years in the GULag. 
Mamlakat Nakhangova (1924-) was a Stakhanovite record-breaking cotton-picker from Tadzhikistan, famous for being photographed with Stalin, and for a poster of her smiling face. She later became a college teacher of English, retiring in 1985.
The USSR annexed part of Bessarabia, and the Baltic countries of Latvia, Lithuania, and Estonia, in 1940 under the provisions of the Nazi-Soviet (or ‘Ribbentrop-Molotov’) pact of 1939.
Tanya by Aleksei Arbuzov (1908-86), first performed in 1939, remained one of the most widely performed plays in the USSR.
Sot′ (1930), by Leonid Leonov (1899-1994), is a classic Soviet industrialisation novel, set on the river of that name, which flows through the Yaroslavl region of European Russia, northeast of Moscow.
‘Life has got better, comrades, life has got more happy’ was a phrase used by Stalin in his speech to the 1935 Conference of Stakhanovites; it became perhaps the most famous slogan of the entire Soviet period.
‘The Soviet Union’s building’ refers to The USSR Constructs, the title of a lavishly illustrated propaganda monthly that was published from 1935 to 1941 and then again in 1949.
‘Troikas’ here refers to the three-person NKVD kangaroo courts that pronounced hundreds of thousands of summary sentences during Stalin’s Great Terror.
Cadets at the elite Suvorov Military Academies, founded in 1943 in Leningrad, wear distinctive black and red uniforms. They are named in honour of the national hero General Suvorov (1730-1800), for whom Derzhavin wrote an elegy called ‘The Bullfinch’, because the song of his caged bullfinch reminded him of the fife in military bands.
Aleksei ‘Tiger’ Khomich (1920-80) was a legendary goalkeeper who started his career with Dinamo Moscow.
Yerofeich and Spotykach are classic strong flavoured vodkas.

1937 — 1947 — 1977

На даче спят. В саду, до пят
закутанный в лихую бурку,
старик-грузин, присев на чурку,
палит грузинский самосад.
Он недоволен. Он объят
тоской. Вот он растил дочурку,
а с ней теперь евреи спят.


Плакат с улыбкой Мамлакат.

И Бессарабии ломоть,
и жидкой Балтики супешник —
его прокуренный зубешник
все, все сумел перемолоть.
Не досчитаться дядь и теть.
В могиле враг. Дрожит приспешник.
Есть пьеса — «Таня». Книга «Соть».


Господь, Ты создал эту плоть.

Жить стало лучше. Веселей.
Ура. СССР на стройке.
Уже отзаседали тройки.
И ничего, что ты еврей.
Суворовцев, что снегирей.
Есть масло, хлеб, икра, настойки.
«Возьми с собою сто рублей».


И по такой, грущу по ней.

«Под одеяло рук не прячь,
и вырастешь таким, как Хомич.
Не пи..ди у папаши мелочь.
Не плачь от мелких неудач».
«Ты все концы в войну не прячь».
(Да и была ли, Ерофеич?» —
«Небось приснилось, Спотыкач».)


Мой дедушка — военный врач.

Воспоминаньем озарюсь.
Забудусь так, что не опомнюсь.
Мне хочется домой, в огромность
квартиры, наводящей грусть.

13 July 2015

Polemic / Полемика


No—only happenstance has beauty
in this appalling world of ours,
where prison escorts grimace, bare teeth,
and make us grovel on all fours.

A sudden opening in a cloudbank,
a botched line by the poet Blok,
a fragment from the Soviet songbook
in neighbourhoods of cinderblock.

(Translation © 2015 G.S. Smith)

[From Тайный советник (Privy Councillor), 1987]


Нет, лишь случайные черты
прекрасны в этом стрaшном мире,
где конвоиры скалят рты
и ставят нас на все четыре.

Внезапный в тучах перерыв,
неправильная строчка Блока,
советской песенки мотив
среди кварталов шлакоблока.

05 July 2015

Strolling with Erëmin / Прогулки с Ерëминым

Mikhail Erëmin, Leningrad, 1975 / Михаил Ерёмин, Ленинград, 1975 г.

Strolling with Erëmin

A wonder of the world, an eighth one,
makes this city fair —
Petrov-Vodkin and Malevich,
shrine to sphere and square.

From back there a bird flies, coming
to my dreams sometimes,
asking me to take communion
of the whitest white.

Then we two step sprightly, spot-on,
along the granite bank.
Down the river sails a squadron,
cannon bang-bang-bang.

Our horizon’s concave-curvate,
broad the river flows,
and we sport a sprig of carrot
in our buttonholes.

[From Sisyphus Redux (2000)]

Translator's note: Mikhail Erëmin (b. 1936), the Leningrad/Petersburg poet and long-time friend of Lev Loseff.

(Translation © 2015 G.S. Smith)

Прогулки с Ерëминым

Как восьмое чудо мира
украшает град
храм Кузьмы и Казимира —
сфера и квадрат.

Иногда оттуда птица
прилетает в сны,
приглашает причаститься
белой белизны.

Мы тогда шагаем складно
по граниту плит.
По реке плывет эскадра,
пушками палит.

Горизонт наш кругл и вогнут,
широка река,
и пучок моркови воткнут
в лацкан сюртука.