21 April 2018

Written high up, just under the roof... / Под стрехою на самом верху...

Photo: Lev Loseff, 1965

Written high up, just under the roof,
it says, incomprehensibly, XY.
The man who inscribed this device
made so bold as to threaten the skies.
Like an enemy fort smashing down
the old shrine of our gods outworn.
From the skies, for forgotten folk, 
a second Prometheus, he took
not fire but a pale blue light —
the TV in their huts at night.
Pain and peril don’t scare him at all.
Liver pecked at by alcohol,
he still strikes the eagle pose,
takes a swig from his bottle’s nose,
then brings up his ladder again,
so’s to finish writing his sign.
Well versed how we Russians spell,  
he’ll position that bold little curl
on the И that comes after the ХУ,
and complete what he’s laboured to do.
Russian frost cannot touch him, nor
can sclerosis, cirrhosis, no more
than depression, infarct, or insult,
he’ll continue the phallic cult,
being made flesh in that word Tartars lent
with a piglet’s tail on its rear end.

From Чудесный десант (The Miraculous Raid), 1985

(Translation © 2018 G.S. Smith)

The word on the wall in the first line is made up of the first two letters of the most common Russian obscenity, which sounds something like the old-fashioned American ‘Hooey’; its primary meaning is ‘cock’, but it is used in an extremely wide variety of ways. The third and final letter of the word, with its ‘curl’, mentioned later on in the poem, is Й. The word is of Common Slavonic rather than Tartar origin. The equivalent graffito in English would be a phallic symbol, or the F-word.

Под стрехою на самом верху 
непонятно написано ХУ.
Тот, кто этот девиз написал,
тот дерзнул угрожать небесам. 
Сокрушил, словно крепость врагов, 
ветхий храм наших дряхлых богов. 
У небес для забытых людей 
он исхитил, второй Прометей, 
не огонь, голубой огонек — 
телевизоры в избах зажег.
Он презрел и опасность и боль. 
Его печень клюет алкоголь, 
принимающий облик орла, 
но упрямо он пьет из горла,
к дому лестницу тащит опять, 
чтобы надпись свою дописать. 
Нашей грамоты крепкий знаток, 
он поставит лихой завиток
над союзною буквою И,
завершая усилья свои.
Не берет его русский мороз,
не берет ни склероз, ни цирроз, 
ни тоска, ни инфаркт, ни инсульт, 
он продолжит фаллический культ,
воплотится в татарском словце
с поросячьим хвостом на конце.

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