POETRY IN TRANSLATION

© Igor Pomerantsev


lightstripsStrips of light
in a room.
Daytime.
July.
Kiev.
The lightest strip
breathes alongside
on the divan.
On a map for fingers
Kiev
is somewhere near
Alexandria.

Translated by Frank Williams


 
A small landscape in October,
a shabby one,
worn out,
with a whiff of a stinky
cigarette,
with a wink,
with a wife
beautiful only on November 7th
and New Year,
with a sort of
pathetic
"cheerio!"

Her flat body,
laid on the divan,
is indistinguishable
from a Persian carpet.
Slightly tickling kisses
melt soundlessly.
To the arabesques of her caresses
there is no end.
Sperm, too,
is absorbed without trace
into her fibre.

Their prison term
is so long,
that you begin
to forget them,
and when someone
finally
turns up out of the zone,
you experience a feeling of horror,
but soon,
after hearing on the radio
that he's been arrested again,
you feel easy
and rejoice.

In the street,
buying wine,
we light-heartedly swapped
phobias:
mine
of streetwalkers,
his
of homosexuals.
Reaching home,
a little of our light-heartedness
went with every gulp.
A cloud of fear
hovered in the room.
We left each other
hastily somehow,
never again
to meet
alone. 

Translated by Frank Williams

 

This is what Flaubert said
about his novel Madame Bovary:

What can I say about this book?
Above all I wanted to convey
that specific yellowish coloration
  of alleyways
where melancholy sometimes makes
  its nest.

Never once embraced you
on our own.
There's always been
a third party,
and in the intertwining
of our bodies
I mistake their hand
for mine or yours
and kiss it.

Monday morning,
by prior arrangement,
he phones
the School of Oriental Studies
and explains at length
her situation,
a refugee, studies incomplete,
sorts it all out, fixes it up,
and all this time
imagines himself
naked, astride
her, half-turned
and pouring wine –
either for himself
or for her.

Translated by Frank Williams

 

storeroom

In the storeroom of the corner shop
next to our house
it is cold and airless.
The woman behind the counter who resembles
a bag of sugar
is dragging something bulky.
Vitaly Andreyevich looks
at the window, closed
and painted over with broad brush strokes.
I stand with my back to the door
at the wash basin
and wash off my face.
My wife comes running in.
Through the noise of water
I hear her voice in agitation:
"Vitaly Andreyevich,
  isn't there enough room in your KGB office?
  Must you have a talk with him
  here?"


These switches and rustles
of his poems,
conspiratorial shadows
of lovers,
coffee grounds of night,
a damp dryness,
soured rags,
suffusions of wine.
An enveloping
woman's name –
Alexandria.

Translated by Frank Williams


 

poetry in translation

It was a joke: just fancy now, said I
A stage with strippers. Circle, pit and stalls,
The whole place crammed with menfolk. There I sit
Back row in comfort. Next to the projector,
A chewed-about and fairly scratchy print,
Perhaps Christian-Jacques, perhaps De Sica,
I kiss, caress. Could I really bear
To love elsewhere?

A band. Ice-cream on sale. A mountain of a man
Now opens up one of those special  boxes:
From inside –pop! – a hunchback  on a spring,
Who leaps about the hall to female squeals
Which soon subside to whispers. Pinkus Berg!
What boy now in Jerusalem, mouth  open
Like me can't tear his olive eyes from you?

Winter and tiling. Just turn on the tap:
The icicles go tinkling round the basin,
And Gerda stares behind you. At your back
Moves death on skis, white like a Finnish soldier,
And brandishing his ski-sticks as he goes.
We've lost our bearings. All praise, o virus
Of cursed influenza. You have freedom.

Somewhere a city: on the edge. Out  there
No law of quarantine has real existence.
A boy and a girl are sitting. In the dark
A knee is picked out by a hand, just like a ribbon.

Was I in love with her? If I'd known
Back then what things one might do to a woman,
I would have died: bullet through the brain.
Applause from all spectators. Every move
a lie. The belladonna
Dilates the pupils. And she sings on
'Arrividerci Ro...'. My brother now
Takes her away.

You'd never see a film like that today. 

Translated by Alan Myers

 

Igor PomerantsevTime was, remember, when you had to pay
To get on railway platforms and it cost
A rouble in the old money; back then
Weeping came quite easily, but these days –
-And these days have been going on for years –
That little lizard will not shed its scales.

A lizard flickered by just then. Rail car,
So narrow, feels as if my hands
Pressed throbbing temples.
We will not meet again. The guard is looking grim.
His whey face seems to melt there standing on his steps.

Just press against my lips and, like blowing glass
Will engineer that tender kiss  transparent, fragile
And try to seize the lizard tail of loving.

A frontier town that tourists never see.
A handkerchief was needed for my eyes –
It's sheer affection: that self-same shade
That self-same pastel hint
Links uniforms and steppe-land
In one tint.

We will not meet again. The toilet on the station
A second's space, a handshake and we die,
I'll stagger back, inhaling rank carbolic,
My eyes will sense the old insistent  pin-prick
That signals breakdown.

Translated by Alan Myers

 

poem

FROM  THE  AUTHOR

Away all doubts! The reader is not  fearful,
The reader likes the sharpest razor blades.
He would be glad to die along with me
Beneath a desk-lamp, from a bursting windpipe.
Am I mistaken? Well, let's not evade
Mistakes I have committed, nor my insights.
Why be bashful? When young, my  little town
Drilled into bad taste, a lasting  lesson –
Where pathos lingered, beauty lingered too,
Where life and death collided – that's  where art was. 

Get on the saddle. Bicycle's at hand.
A one, a two. And  off we fly. The fading
Familiar faces. Just the temple throb,
And an anorak  that billows out behind me.
Hold on more tightly. Cable grips are snapped.
For us there can be no more thought of stopping.

A garden, look. That boy there: on his lips
There's cherryade, loose braces over shoulders.
The poplar's silver down and peeping through,
The Jewish quarter, like a home-baked loaf
With garlic well rubbed-in. Old women's eyes.
Just look. Inhale. You'll understand that fear
Along with water bursts out from the stand-pipes.

And tyres go hissing on. How steep the slope.
And dust gets in the tickles in the nostrils.
Now something stings my face. My ears still hear
It ring ' I love you!'. Tears held back  by wind-force
Which brings salvation.
 
Sheer drops of arms. Cliff faces. How frail
The cheerful whipping air-stream.
Dragonflies
Have made it seem transparent now and lighter,
Fragrant of cornflowers. Far away
The frontier, and railway carriage bustle,
The customs scrutiny. The mother of my friend
Now boards. Once more, once more, one final effort.
No helping them. The saddle-bag drums on.
We fly, dear reader! Spokes and sinews flexing.
I am here. With you. I'd love to take you too
Not down the hillside, but past the lip of nothing,
If only doubt would vanish...

Translated by Alan Myers

 

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