06 September 2016

In Memory of Pskov / Памяти Пскова

Pskov, The Tower of Thunder, Photo by Lev Loseff ca. 1961

In Memory of Pskov

That time when they imposed an air tax, put up
those prosecutions targeted at yogis
because they knew a way to pause their breathing
so’s to upset the budget of the state,
my job was tax inspector, I’d been slogging,
shaken to bits, in farm-collective pickups
(my rough-book verse back at the gazette building),
then hung out in that burg where now I’m not.

A Saturday. The town was clad in peasants.
A shower of rain dropped by and then departed.
The central food store put out beer—unusual—
to work at the gazette I bid adieu.
I served my queuing time, knocked back my portion,
no more—I wasn’t trying to save my pennies,
but there just weren’t that many serious boozers,
a few mushrooms with eyes were present, though.

I armed myself with bagel and Fet’s poems,
sat on the slope close to the Tower of Thunder.
The river twixt Assumption and Conception
flowed by, in all its scintillating breadth.
A bibber or two figured they had my number,
but knowing how my people can’t stand poets,
what was there I could say, to claim exemption?
Here’s what I said to them: ‘Let’s smell your breath!’

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

(Translation © 2016 G.S. Smith)

The last line of the second stanza refers to a rhyming catchphrase whose meaning remains obscure: ‘А у нас в Рязани грибы с глазами. Их едят — они гладят’ (‘Here in Ryazan′ we have mushrooms with eyes. They watch when they’re being eaten’); for some speculation see http://www.travel4us.ru/publ/info/russia/mushrooms_with_eyes/21-1-0-34.

The ‘Tower of Thunder’ (1525) stands on the banks of the Pskov river, a tributary of the Velikaya, which flows through the city of Pskov; see http://anashina.com/gremyachaya-bashnya. The churches of the Assumption and the Conception are two of the Pskov’s many medieval shrines.

Pskov, Church of the Epiphany, Photo by Lev Loseff ca. 1961

Памяти Пскова

Когда они ввели налог на воздух
и начались в стране процессы йогов,
умеющих задерживать дыхание
с намерением расстроить госбюджет,
я, в должности инспектора налогов
натрясшийся на газиках совхозных
(в ведомостях блокноты со стихами),
торчал в райцентре, где меня уж нет.

Была суббота. Город был в крестьянах.
Прошелся дождик и куда-то вышел.
Давали пиво в первом гастрономе,
и я сказал адье ведомостям.
Я отстоял свое и тоже выпил,
не то чтобы особо экономя,
но вообще немного было пьяных:
росли грибы с глазами там и сям.

Вооружившись бубликом и Фетом,
я сел на скате у Гремячей башни.
Река между Успеньем и Зачатьем
несла свои дрожащие огни.
Иной ко мне подсаживался бражник,
но, зная отвращение к поэтам
в моем народе, что я мог сказать им.
И я им говорил: «А ну дыхни».

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