20 May 2019

Inscription in a Book / Надпись на книге

Inscription in a Book

                   To Boris Paramonov

In the city of the empress
who held converse with Diderot,
where the steel birds’ song impresses
in the underbuilt metro,
where in the Ipatev basement,
for ideas as hot as fire
commienuts exterminated
children paralysed with fear,
where the back streets quake in terror
at the Uralmash gang’s might,  
where no box will you encounter
that’s not made of malachite,
where that louse of a consumptive,
shtetl pince-nez all agleam, 
lurks incognito, presumptive
dybbuk from a fearful dream,
in the world’s Eurarsian quarter —
that’s the place this book got started.

From Как я сказал (As I Said), 2004

(Translation ©2019 G.S. Smith)

The book concerned here is Lev Loseff, Sobrannoe, published by U-Faktoriya in Ekaterinburg in 2001. The poem repeats, probably knowingly, the commonly held assertion that the city is named for Catherine II, the Great, who corresponded with Diderot and other Enlightenment thinkers; it was in fact founded in 1723 and named for Peter the Great’s wife, later Empress Catherine I. The ‘consumptive’ is the Bolshevik leader Yakov Sverdlov (1885-1919), whose name the city bore from 1924 to 1991. Tsar Nicholas II and his family were massacred in the Ipatev house here on 17 July 1918, probably on Sverdlov’s orders. The ‘Uralmash gang’ is a notorious local criminal syndicate; Uralmash is the city’s major heavy engineering factory. The Malachite Box is a notorious example of Stalin-period ‘fakelore’, a collection of stories supposedly collected from workers of the Ural region, but in fact invented by Pavel Bazhov (1879-1950), first published in 1936.

Надпись на книге 

                     Б. Парамонову 

В городе императрицы, 
собеседницы Дидро,
где поют стальные птицы 
в недостроенном метро, 
где в ипатьевском подвале 
ради пламенных идей 
коммуняки убивали 
перепуганных детей, 
где стращает переулки 
уралмашская братва,
где нельзя найти шкатулки, 
чтоб не малахитова,
где чахоточная гнида, 
местечковое пенсне 
пребывает инкогнито,
точно диббук в страшном сне, 
в евмразийской части света —
вот где вышла книга эта. 

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