Poems and Fuckery

you know how sometimes you’re writing a poem
and at the same time children in india are starving
you write one word, a child over there drops dead
a line, five kiddies in somalia give up the ghost
you write a quatrain and there go a hundred innocents in pakistan
you find a clever rhyme and there’s a mountain of fresh corpses in nigeria
you hit upon a canny metaphor – uganda is wracked by famine

so hurry up and write
yeah we mean you
quit with the verbiage
be plain and clear
avoid wordy descriptions and obscurity
cut out rhetorical devices and get rid of tropes
omit as many vapid passages as possible
abbreviate, use acronyms
be lucid and convincing
and finish your poem already
can still
save someone

you know how sometimes you turn on the TV

and they’re all praising putin
so you say fuck this and you change the channel
but on the next channel they’re all praising putin too
you’re like fuck this and you change the channel again, pissed off
but even here, they’re praising putin
so you’re like fuck everything
and you turn off the motherfucking TV

you get online
and they’re all talking shit about putin
you go to another site
they’re all talking shit about putin there too
a third
and they’re talking even more serious shit about putin than anywhere before
pissed off, you’re like fuck this
and get offline
then sometimes you pick up a book
one of the Russian or foreign classics
but more often Russian
you settle down comfortably in your armchair
tuck your legs beneath you
set a glass of cognac on the end table
and you think
My God
there are some fundamental human values left on this earth after all

you know how sometimes you invite your poet friend to a protest

even when you know that he‘s skeptical of protests
he says we have to invent a new political language
and who can argue with that
of course we need to invent that language
but the question is how are we supposed to do it
without participating in the everyday routine of struggle
although of course it’s too dramatic to say “struggle”
but there’s no better word right now
we haven’t invented it yet . . .

so you invite your poet friend to the protest
and he goes and sprays obscenities all over
maybe out of a lack of experience
though he’s supposedly a longtime poet-activist
or maybe just out of thoughtlessness
or maybe also out of self-interest
a hankering for the easy glory of being a prisoner of conscience
but no
most likely he just didn’t think about the consequences
it isn’t every day that he’s reading poems at a protest
and he isn’t well-versed in the intricacies of the criminal code
which makes sense:
he’s a poet, not a human rights activist from some NGO
so you invite your poet friend to a protest
and he goes and yells ”glory forever to any old fuckery”
and men in plainclothes are right there with their camcorders
tsk tsk, they say
this is really dreadful
there are women children and old people here
and you’re cursing away
you call yourself a poet . . .
you get agitated of course
you’re the guilty one, you invited him, your comrade
and while you have long been the prisoner of your own rhetorical and behavioral cliches
your friend the poet might any minute now break out with the living word
that long-awaited new language might materialize on his very lips
but then they go and grab him
as you were right about to try and resist
this is the 21st century and you policemen haven’t learned a thing
you keep on carting people off for words just like before
I mean how much can we take
like this putin of yours says there’s no censorship in russia
we don’t have censorship
but you guys . . .
what are you talking about
they just laugh in response
what’s the point, they say
in all this fuckery
and around children too, for fuck’s sake
children are our future
as our putin says
children are our future
be fruitful and multiply
and do not teach your children evil . . .

so you invite your poet friend to the protest
and they drag him off to the station in a police van
and then to the judge
as a petty offender
you go back home all worried
the guilt eating you up, clawing at your heart
like look at you, Roma, sitting at home drinking tea
while your poet friend is lying hungry on a cot
and maybe they’re beating him for no reason
shoving champagne bottles up various orifices
doing all manner of unnatural things to him
you should be the one over there in his place
you invited him to that ill-starred protest
after an hour or two of worrying
you get online to do some social networking, you can’t bear the loneliness
man is a social animal after all
with innate verbal potential
with the ability to converse that is
to read and write
and the poet is the uttermost realization of this ability
language directed toward itself
the subject of which as my friend the poet would say is
any old fuckery
so you go peruse your social media
and there oh heavens
everywhere you look there’s headlines blazing
poet arrested for a poem
poet challenges authority
poet suffers for the freedom of all humanity
and pictures of your friend smiling
his gaze smoldering
his expression stern
holding the very book
where that fuckery figures
and now all the news feeds
are full of the news of this fuckery
the radio’s repeating it every half-hour
it’s in the yandex top-ten most-read articles…
and although you aren’t generally envious of others’ success
you can’t handle the media overload
I mean what is this comrades
you go to protest after protest
you read, foaming at the mouth,
about blighted injustice and the stormclouds gathering over the nation
you hand out literature
you wave flags
and you might think you’d end up in the top results at least once
but no
not once not even one time
best case scenario you’re implied between the lines in some local gazette
and that’s all she wrote
while now when he drops
just a snatch of fuckery
and thoughtlessly at that
your friend the poet is wallowing in glory
but since you’re fundamentally not vindictive
you write it all off to the warped logic of the media
and you forget your childish hurt feelings
after all what could be nicer
than your friend the poet alive, unharmed
standing in the doorway, smiling
opening a bottle of champagne
clamoring for a toast to glorious fuckery
any old kind

—Translated from the Russian by Ainsley Morse and Bela Shayevich

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