Anna Tereshkina: Earth Digger

Anna Tereshkina has always epitomized, for me, the radical core of the Petersburg underground. Especially since she comes from Omsk, in Siberia. If Chernyshevsky were writing the novel of our times, Tereshkina would be Vera Pavlovna and Rakhmetov all at once.

tereshkina-photo (anastasia makarenko)Anna Tereshkina. Photo by Anastasia Makarenko. Courtesy of Ms. Tereshkina’s Facebook page

Tereshkina is an incredibly prolific artist, curator, musician, and poet. She is dedicated to universal justice and solidarity and is particularly attuned to the aesthetic and political performative discourses of queer-feminism. Her work and, most importantly, her life as a work (of art and politics) have been among the most formative for me in terms of opening up to my own queer body and writing.

Among Tereshkina’s most important projects are:

The first translation is from Tereshkina’s incredible recent collection in the online journal F-Writing. The second is one of Red Dawns’ songs.

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relaxation as the result of many days of effort.
many years of effort.
I come here, into the world of feminine bodies
to erase my sex,
to look at them carefully,
so calm,
escaping for a couple hours
children, husbands, grandsons, debts,
poverty and bosses,
patience and despair.
into the kingdom of heat and silence.
everyone is silent, they just breathe like stoves.*
and I need to breathe this way, too.
today I showed a new woman the ladle and mitt, so she could give us more steam.
she said: “toss more,” and I didn’t understand.**
then I thought about the division of language and feelings:
you can pick over them like grains
or you can share them with someone.
or eat your kasha with black dots,
if you like dots, in particular black ones.***
there’s a strong woman washing her old mother,
after the steam room she tells her: sit here a bit.
will I ever wash my mother?
mine never goes to the banya alone.
and then I hear, hear, hear everything
breath and motion, breath and motion
the electric current pulls the water pumps
and the water runs off into the drain.
I want to be huge like a stove,
so no one can put me in their pocket.

* The poem describes a scene in a Russian public bathhouse or banya on a women’s day. The banya is heated by a large brick stove or pech.

** These lines contrast two infinitives, describing the act of throwing water on the stones in the stove to produce steam. On the one hand, poddavat (to add or increase the steam, with the root meaning “to give”), and on the other hand, podkinut (to toss or throw the steam). Tereshkina told me she had never heard this usage of the second verb before the scene described.

*** The reference is to the black grains that can often be found in a bag of buckwheat kasha. They can be separated out before cooking or simply eaten along with the rest.

tereshkina-self portraitAnna Tereshkina, Self-Portrait. Courtesy of the artist

https://krasnyezori.bandcamp.com/track/shrew

Mama, I want a tattoo,
Mama, I’m embarrassed before you
Like usual, because I was born,
And forced to steal your youth.
It was so scary in the 1990s,
no scarier than now, lying down
looking back, looking forward,
We don’t know which of us
Lies the most to the other
We don’t know which of us
Lies the most to themselves.

I like being a girl,
but it’s better to be a zemleroika,
Anyone born in perestroika,
Remains forever there.
I like being a girl,
who has such little air
underwater, everything squeezing me,
and no one waiting up above
It’s already too late.

Mama, I want to get my nose pierced,
so everyone can see I’m grown up
and I can pierce everything I want, if I want.
Mama, can I come back
into your matrix, peek in with one eye,
so I can rest,
so I don’t have to breathe,
so I can run away.
Is it shameful to dream of such things?

I like being a girl,
but it’s better to be a zemleroika,
Whoever was born in perestroika,
Remains forever there.
I like being a girl
who has such little air
underwater, everything squeezing me,
and no one waiting up above
It’s already too late.

* The Russian for “shrew” is zemleroika, which literally means “earth digger,” recalling Hegel’s appropriation of Hamlet’s “old mole” to name the spirit of history. Since “shrew” has such misogynistic connotations in English (and none in Russian), I have left the original word in the translation. Please learn this word (rhymes with perestroika!) and use it in English to replace the dead word “shrew” if you are speaking of a tough, assertive woman.

Translation and commentary by Joan Brooks. If you would like to support the author’s work, please consider donating. Any amount helps. Please include “Tereshkina” in the memo line of your contribution.

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