17 March 2019

The Miraculous Raid / Чудесный десант

Nina Mokhova-Loseff, Vladimir Gerasimov, Natasha Sharymova (Vainer), Lev Loseff ca. 1960

The Miraculous Raid

Things were going like they usually go.
Tormented by longing for weekend,
grinding round in their trams went the folk;
tormented by longing for sweeties,

nursery kids trudged back from parade.
Then a unit of God’s own angels,
a celestial miraculous raid,
descended on Leningrad-Hades.

Bazooka shells blast Hermitage
shrubbery. Shouts of ‘Hosanna!’
Already they’ve seized every bridge,
the stations, the ‘Quisisana’.

The bolts of the jail swept aside
by grenades and the Word Almighty.
Its hostages somewhat surprised —
caught asleep,
                       or pie-eyed,
                                         or in nightwear.

Over here! Mikhail, Leonid,
three women, Yurii, Volodyas!
Our transport heads west, at full speed.
You’re free now, for we are victorious.

The rustle of wings bearing wounds
dragging along the pavement.
The unit lobs mortar rounds
to cover our chopper’s movement.

But strength, like wax, melts and droops,
the angelic unit’s exhausted,
forced back by security troops
grimly shuffling home from their workday.

We rise up, we’re headed away,
dissolving in fading heavens.
Beneath us patrol flashlights play
in Ulyanka, Grazhdanka, Entebbe.

Midnight embers smouldering down
like the farewell stripe of a sunset —
the pontoon bridge we had blown
on a sandbar not far from Kronstadt.

From Чудесный десант (The Miraculous Raid), 1985

(Translation ©2019 G.S. Smith)

The Quisisana was a restaurant at 44 Nevsky Prospekt, in the centre of St Petersburg; it closed in 1914, but the name persisted for the various eating-places that subsequently occupied the site. The restaurant is mentioned in many literary memoirs. At present the café ‘Sever’ (‘North’) is located at this address.

In the fifth stanza, LL refers to some of his closest literary friends: Mikhail Eremin, 1936-; Leonid Vinogradov, 1936-2004; Yurii Mikhailov, 1933-90, Vladimir Gerasimov, 1935-2015, and Vladimir Uflyand, 1937-2007. One of the ‘three women’ must be Loseff’s wife Nina Mokhova; another is probably Natalya Vainer (now Sharymova, once the ‘significant other’ of Gerasimov); the identity of the third is uncertain. I am grateful to Dimitry Loseff for advice on this question.

Ulyanka and Grazhdanka are districts of Petersburg. ‘Entebbe’ evidently refers to the hostage rescue at the airport there by Israeli commandos on 4 July 1976.

Чудесный десант

Все шло, как обычно идет.
Томимый тоской о субботе,
толокся в трамвае народ,
томимый тоской о компоте,

тащился с прогулки детсад.
Вдруг ангелов Божьих бригада,
небесный чудесный десант
свалился на ад Ленинграда.

Базука тряхнула кусты
вокруг Эрмитажа. Осанна!
Уже захватили мосты,
вокзалы, кафе “Квисисана”.

Запоры тюрьмы смещены
гранатой и словом Господним.
Заложники чуть смущены —
кто спал,
                кто нетрезв,
                                     кто в исподнем.

Сюда — Михаил, Леонид,
три женщины, Юрий, Володи!
На запад машина летит.
Мы выиграли, вы на свободе.

Шуршание раненых крыл,
влачащихся по тротуарам.
Отлет вертолета прикрыл
отряд минометным ударом.

Но таяли силы, как воск,
измотанной ангельской роты
под натиском внутренних войск,
понуро бредущих с работы.

И мы вознеслись и ушли,
растаяли в гаснущем небе.
Внизу фонарей патрули
в Ульянке, Гражданке, Энтеббе.

И тлеет полночи потом
прощальной полоской заката
подорванный нами понтон
на отмели подле Кронштадта.

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