Belarus

— Паслухай, стары,
нам учора абвешчана воля,
і сёння ад рання
народам запоўнены пляцы,
наперадзе – радасць,
якая нас век не пакіне,
і я назаўсёды з табой
развітацца хачу…
— Паслухай, мой хлопча,
учора зіма пачалася,
і белыя вопраткі
чорныя дрэвы надзелі,
і шэранем ранішнім
ледзь прыцярушаны прорвы,
і холад хавае
ўсялякі ці прыпах, ці пах –
і так будзе доўжыцца
аж да вясновае ўлады –
тады на дарогах
адкрыюцца раны старыя,
як сонца сарве перавязкі…
Крывёю і брудам
вам станецца радасць
і доўга чаканая воля.
А тут, пад зямлёй,
пад заброснелай нізкаю столлю,
на змрочнай сцяне,
будуць мілыя блікі блукаць
маленькай, як жменька,
і вечнай – і вечнай! – надзеі…
… У кніжцы без вокладкі
і без апошніх старонак,
дзе вы, адмыслоўцы шалёнага часу,
жылі,
я сёння заместа закладкі
лісток пакладу
ад пекнай герані,
падобнай на кроў і агонь.

Тацяна Сапач (1962-2010)

vadim f lurie-minsk 2019Vadim F. Lurie, Minsk, 2019. Courtesy of the photographer

— Послушай, старик,
нам свободу вчера обещали,
и нынче с утра
уже площади полны народа,
их радость ведет,
и она нас вовек не покинет,
и с этого дня я с тобою
расстаться хочу…
— Послушай, сыночек,
вчера к нам зима подступила,
и белые платья
решили примерить деревья,
и инеем ранним
чуть проруби сверху покрыты,
и холод скрывает
повсюду и запах, и вонь —
и будет держаться
все это до вешнего ветра —
тогда на дорогах
откроются старые раны,
лишь солнце сорвет с них повязки…
И кровью и грязью
окажется радость
и званая вами свобода.
А тут, под землей,
тут, где низкие своды и плесень,
на темной стене
будут милые блики играть
от зеркала крошечной
светлой и вечной надежды…
Но в книгу, где нет ни последних страниц,
ни обложки,
где вы, мастера сумасшедшего времени,
жили,
я вместо закладки сегодня
листок положу
прекрасной герани,
похожей на кровь и огонь.

Translated from the Belarusian by Gennady Kanevsky

 

—Listen, granddad,
yesterday they promised us freedom,
and now, since morning,
the squares are filled with people,
led on by joy,
and it will never abandon us,
and from this day, I want
to part with you . . .
—Listen, sonny,
yesterday winter arrived,
and the trees decided
to try on white dresses,
and the ice holes are slightly covered
with early frost,
and everywhere the cold hides
both scents and stink—
and all this will hold firm
until a wind comes from outside—
then, on the roads,
old wounds will open,
if only the sun tears off the bandages . . .
And blood and dirt
will turn out to be the joy
and the freedom you called for.
And here, under the earth,
here, where there are low vaults and mold,
on the dark wall
dear flecks of light will play
from the tiny mirror
of bright and eternal hope.
But today, in this book, where there are no final pages,
no covers,
where you, masters of the crazy times,
lived,
I will place a leaf
instead of a bookmark
from a wonderful geranium
that resembles blood and fire.

Translated from Gennady Kanevsky’s Russian by Joan Brooks

* * * * *

Tatsyana Sapach (1962–2010) was a Belarusian poet, journalist, and translator, and the author of two collections of poetry. Gennady Kanevsky (b. 1965, Moscow) has published eight books of verse. Many of his poems have been translated into English, Italian, Hungarian, and Ukrainian. Video courtesy of Nexta and Andrey Rysev

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.

_________________________________

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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Two Fairytales

Alexander Skidan
Facebook
May 25, 2020

Yesterday, with my own eyes, I saw a crow escorting a hedgehog across the highway, pushing him along with his beak. I was so dumbstruck, the thought never even occurred to me to get out my phone. The most touching thing happened at the curbside. The hedgehog couldn’t overcome it right away, the crow was very upset, and she* jumped onto the curb and tried tried tried tried tried while the cars** were going going going going past, and then she jumped down and again tried tried tried, but the hedgehog found a spot a bit lower and all by himself himself himself himself himself jumped up, and off he went.***

________________

*The word for car in Russian, mashina, is equivalent to the word for “machines,” which I believe is significant for the allegorical reading of the tale.

**The word for crow in Russian, vorona, is grammatically gendered feminine. This does not necessarily mean the crow was anatomically female. Hedgehog, yozhik, is gendered masculine.

***I consulted with Skidan, and we translated the folkloric formula i byl takov as “and off he went.” However, another variant would be “and that was the last anyone ever saw of him.” The word-for-word rendition of the idiom is: “and he was such.”

Solidarity and mutualism are the only future we have. But hedgehogs need to let the crows get on with things, I reckon. They just need to lower their expectations and get up and go on their own.

hedgehog in fogA still from Yuri Nornstein’s animated film Hedgehog in the Fog (1975). Courtesy of Pikabu.ru

Darya Apahonchich
Facebook
July 1, 2020

Once there was a certain dictator who had prepared everything for annulling himself: a new armchair, a festive cigar, a little cognac, and lots and lots of medals to sprinkle over his generals (he had also stored up some smackdowns for other people).

He sat down at his favorite desk, and, at exactly 11:59 PM, he closed his eyes tight and hit the main annulment button. And at that very second he turned into a newborn baby. He plopped down in the chair and started screaming (well, that’s what babies are supposed to do), and all his bodyguards rushed in to see who was screaming and then bang! They were also annulled and turned into babies. What horror!

It was a good thing that the carpet was soft and they didn’t hurt themselves when they fell. And, after them, the senators, the ministers, and all the members of the government were annulled back into babies. This would have been the end of all of them, but the cleaning lady came into the office and gasped: what a calamity! And she set all the little ones down carefully in a line and called for help. But curses! If any deputy ran into the office, he was immediately annulled, so they all ended up that way in one day. Only a few survived because they had skived off work that day, but now they said they were giving up their powers. Times were tough, and the succession of power all the more so—it was time to give up their seats in parliament to young people.

By evening the cleaning lady and the cafeteria lady had taken all the deputies back to their families. These women weren’t very young, but they were strong and experienced. They remembered how to change a diaper, how to rock a baby, and after one day they were terribly tired. Then, in the morning, when they arrived at work, there were new babies in the office. Apparently, some other people had snuck in at night, hoping to become president, and they were also annulled.

The worker-women sighed and returned these little ones to their homes as well.

And so (not right away, of course!), all the remaining deputies and politicians decided they didn’t really want to be presidents, and, since someone still had to do this work, the cleaning lady and the cafeteria lady shared it between themselves. They came to an agreement about the schedule and vacation days.

And life slowly went on. It was like the old life but better. No one waged war anymore or acted like a dictator. Of course! Who wanted to crank the old barrel organ of diapers, kindergarten, and school all over again? No, people were sick of being annulled. It was time to just live a quiet life.

________________

I don’t think this remarkable tale about the constitutional amendments and the annulment of Putin’s term limits needs any commentary.

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

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Stanislava Mogileva: Doing Perfectly Nothing Imperfectly

mogileva
Stanislava Mogileva

This text about quarantine life by the poet Stanislava Mogileva made me weep with spiritual feeling (umilenie).

[24.05.20 17:42]

how to do nothing imperfectly and, what is most important, perfectly nothing,* nothing faster, better, with higher quality, more effectively or interestingly. nothing is the only important thing, besides nothing there is nothing else. the lurid blood of festivals and the tough meat of days of the week have ended, but there remain the sugary pits of dates, numbers. what remains, as usual, is what there was before the imagined excess. the flow, become invisible and insensible, hasn’t been interrupted so long as to stop completely. beyond the limit it’s clean, empty, and not lonely at all, me alone,* it turns out, is completely enough. not too much and not too little—just right, just as much as possible so as not to carry off, not take, not grab, and not saddle. I am lying on the couch, I can’t get up from the couch, and I don’t get up, and this is wonderful. bring me a coffee and a sandwich, my little son. do you know how to make coffee? there’s no cheese and sausage in the house? then give me bread and water. you’ve already learned how to turn on the faucet and open the breadbox, right? excellent, bring it then. good morning.

* “как можно быстрее […] не делать и, главное, не сделать ничего.” I have added the words “imperfectly” and “perfectly” to compensate for the lack of verbal aspect (imperfective and perfective) in English. This is a word-by-word rendition: “how possible faster, better, higher quality, more effectively and interestingly not do [imp.] and, important [nom. adj.], not do [perf.] nothing.” The best (indeed, sublime) discussion of Russian verbal aspect is Boris Gasparov, “Notes on the ‘Metaphysics’ of Russian Aspect,” which tragically doesn’t seem to be online.

* This is the only place in the text that indicates the speaker’s gender as feminine. Since Russian is typically swimming in gendered inflections, this is worth noting.

My readerly associations with this text are overflowing, but let me just say that Mogileva has two sons (4 and 6), as do I (8 and 14), and her text really captured something for me about how, amid all the horrors and traumatizing effects of the corona crisis, my boys are adapting to (evolving/devolving through) the new “idleness” and, I think, doing very well. Suddenly, I see the release of a blocked emergence and independence. And it is helping me unlearn everything I was ever taught about parenting.

Fetch your mom a coffee, my little son. She’s writing a text.

For the original text in Russian and more, see Mogileva’s Telegram channel.

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

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Amending the Dead

On June 21, 2020, the Party of the Dead staged two actions, one at the Volkovskoye cemetery in Petersburg, and another, by “Corpse Corpsevich,” in a cemetery somewhere in the Baltics, subversively affirming the proposed amendments to the Russian constitution, which would “annul” President Putin’s four terms in office, allowing him to remain in power until 2036. On July 1, 2020, Russians will vote on the amendments in a nationwide referendum widely seen as meaningless, and whose (affirmative) outcome is a foregone conclusion. (For more information, see “Russia’s Constitutional Court Approves Amendments Allowing Putin to Rule Until 2036,” RFE/RL, March 16, 2020.)

01
Eternity smells of Putin.
We shall annul ourselves and begin to live! We shall annul ourselves and return to life!
Dead people, get well soon!
The amendments are like hot packs for the dead.
The grave will straighten everyone out.*
Yes to death! Yes to the amendments!

*(This slogan plays off the Russian saying: “only the grave will straighten out the hunchback,” referring to an irredeemably flawed or “incorrigible” person.)

02
To the Constitution without clinking glasses!

(When toasting the dead, Russians do not clink glasses.)

Source: Activatica

 03
Vote while sheltering in place.

04
Be on the mend, Russian citizen!

(The reflexive Russian verb popravliatsia means to get well, to be on the mend. The non-reflexive form popravliat means to amend.)

05
Our amendments. Our constitution. Our country.

06
The “absolute majority” of citizens support the amendments.

(During his first public appearance after weeks in lockdown, Putin claimed that an “absolute majority” of Russians back his plan to change the Russian Constitution.)

07
Two things are certain in life: death and amendments.
It’s all predetermined on high.
Don’t console yourself with fleeting hope,
Annulment is our fate.

10
We will amend our demographics.

09
Here lies Vladimir Putin’s social approval rating.

Source: Facebook

Translation and commentary by Joan Brooks