Belarusian Children’s Writers Call for End to Violence

Belarusian Children’s Writers Against Violence
Oleg Grushetsky
Novy Chas
September 27, 2020

Belarusian children’s writers have recorded a video message in which they condemn the violent actions of the authorities, demand an end to the violence, and ask for restoration of the law.

Well-known Belarusian children’s writers, poets and translators, playwrights, publishers and illustrators, winners of numerous literary awards and creative competitions have made a video message demanding that the Belarusian authorities stop violence and restore the law. Anna Yankuta, Vera Burlak, Nadezhda Yasminska, Natalka Kharitonyuk, Nadya Kandrusevich-Shidlovskaya, Diana Balyko, Olga Akulich,  Andrey Zhvalevsky and Evgeniya Pasternak, and Maria Martysevich recorded the video message. The appeal was supported by Andrey Khodanovich, Maria Bershadskaya, Yuri Nesterenko, Anna Zenkova, and Oleg Grushetsky.

The appeal made by the children’s writers differs from a number of others: it was recorded in a way that resembles the manner of story or fairy tale.

We suggest that you read the text of the message.

Anna Yankuta

Writers can’t be outside of politics, because what we write is politics, even if we write for children. If we don’t fight evil and injustice in life, how will we write about it in books?

Vera Burlak

Children believe books. That’s why it’s important for writers to tell children what they themselves believe. I believe that freedom is necessary: freedom of thought, freedom of imagination, freedom from fear.

Nadezhda Yasminska

Children not only believe in fairy tales, but they also call writers wizards. Their faith is touching and quite precious to us. And we are ready to fight evil, violence, and lawlessness, even though in real life we don’t have magic wands.

Natalka Kharitonyuk

I don’t have a magic wand. But I have a way to take revenge on the security forces and falsifiers, and all the forces of darkness that have gone on the rampage in Belarus. The freedom of children will be my revenge—the freedom that children find in stories and fairy tales. Freedom that cannot be shot or sent to the jail on Okrestin Street.

Nadya Kandrusevich-Shidlovskaya

Children’s literature is a real art that does not tolerate censorship and ideology. Only in a free country can authentic children’s books be freely written, illustrated, and translated. We are against violence, deception and captivity.

Diana Balyko

As it is never too late to have a happy childhood, so it is never too late to realize yourself as a person, as a citizen, and start living in a free country of happy people. And we don’t have to leave Belarus to do this. All we need to do is stop the dictatorship.

Olga Akulich

Children know very well that an adult is not the one who is the strongest, the most evil, or the most cunning. Adults are objective, fair and willing to cooperate. Adults, be adults!

Evgeniya Pasternak and Andrey Zhvalevsky

In fairy tales, good always vanquishes evil. It’s the same way in real life. The evil dragon will slink back into its dungeon. Harry Potter will defeat Voldemort. The Belarusian people will find their fern flower. And a good fellow shall break Koschei’s needle. We will win!

Maria Martysevich

Quiet, mice, quiet, quiet:
We’re being held hostage by a psycho.
Don’t wake the cat with a squeak,
Don’t rock the boat with your paw—
The wolves will come out of the dark,
They’ll kick everyone’s tails.
Only our mice are punks,
Lullabies won’t put them to sleep.
Our mice are flower children,
You can’t break their bouquet like that:
Without the cat, we are in charge.
Shame on you, cats. Long live [Belarus]!

Thanks to Yulya Tsimafeyeva for the heads-up. Translated from the Russian and the Belarusian by the Russian Reader with some assistance from Yandex Translate.

Dmitry Strotsev: How Amazing

Dmitry Strotsev
Facebook
August 23, 2020

*

how amazing
bringing the girlfriend to the square at long last

in the morning the country’s chief warmonger cried foul

let them call it genocide of our own people
first soldiers should fire into the air
and then shoot to kill

walking down the boulevard hand in hand
like last time
and suddenly on the square breathing
freely

the neighbors have the keys
the dog has water and enough biscuits for a whole day

going through the courtyard
where a reckless shadow falls

coming out on the street
where holy humdrum trudges

maybe out of everyone these two
are moving into our madness
to be shot

jump off
it’s not too late
nausea panic attack
of course you can always turn
back

eyes and eyes and eyes
all is lost boss we are going to win
all is lost boss we are going to win

who turns primitive blind fear
into freedom and happiness
and when

who are these twenty people
who annoy the dictator so much
why do they dance before his eyes

Lukashenko’s evacuation from the palace
has begun right this very minute

Lukashenko is leaving the palace
right this very second

no the dragon has returned
a machine gun in its claw

all is lost boss we are going to win

we are very tired
we are going to win

8.23.2020

Thanks to Joan Brooks for the heads-up. Photo courtesy of Dmitry Strotsev. Translated by the Russian Reader

Hanna Zubkova: Including

The Belarusian artist Hanna Zubkova recently produced this heart-wrenching poetization of the list of injuries sustained by protesters during the first days of the revolution, when riot police inflicted incredible violence on the Belarusian people.

#stoptheviolence #ACAB


including
gunshot wounds
to the head
and various
body parts
and limbs
including

the chest,
shoulders, forearms,
hips,
shins,
feet,
buttocks,
belly,
including

penetrating wounds
to the abdomen
with eventration
of the small intestine
blunt wounds—
dozens of cases
external injuries
to the chest
penetrating wounds
to the chest
penetrating trauma
to the chest
with damage to the right middle lobar
bronchus
and the development of hemopneumothorax

the leakage of blood and air
into
the chest
shrapnel wounds to various
body parts,
including

the face,
neck,
hands,
forearms,
hips,
knee joints,
shins,
groin area,
lower back,
the lower part
of the torso,
the abdominal wall,
the buttocks,
including

penetrating shrapnel wounds
and multiple shrapnel wounds—
dozens of cases
trauma and
wounds
from explosions
and mines
to various
body parts,
including

crush injuries to the soft tissue—
dozens of cases
open pneumothorax
the leakage of air into
the chest
lacerations of various
body parts
and limbs,
including

degloving injuries—
dozens of cases
stab wounds
to various
body parts
and limbs,
including

multiple ones—
dozens of cases
thermal burns
from flames
on the upper and lower limbs
and the abdomen—
several cases;
chemical burns
to the eyes—
several cases;
barotrauma
to the ears
from blasts of pressurized
air—
several cases
ruptured eardrums
bleeding from the ears
the condition
after suffering electrical injury
the toxic effect
of gases, vapors, fumes—
several cases
craniocerebral injuries
of varying severity
including

both closed and open—
many dozens of cases
concussions of the brain
hemorrhagic contusions
to the brain—
dozens of cases
traumatic
subarachnoid
hemorrhaging
of the brain
with the formation of subdural
hematomas,
including

acute hematomas—
several cases
periorbital hematomas—
several cases
pneumocephalus
the leakage of air
inside the skull;
fractures of various
bones in the head
and the face
the base of the skull,
the cranial vault,
the zygomatic bone,
the upper jaw,
the maxillary sinuses,
the bridge of the nose,
the crown of the head,
the frontoparietal region,
the temporal region,
including

open fractures
of the zygomatic bone—
dozens of cases
fractures of the upper and lower limbs
both closed and open,
including
comminuted fractures
and displacement
of the bones,
rib fractures—
dozens of cases
compression
fractures of the body
the vertebrae
the dislocation
of joints
damage to the capsular bags
of the joints
and displacement
of the capsular ligament
apparatus of various
joints
including

the cervical vertebrae
including
hemarthrosis
of the limb joints
the leakage of blood inside
the joint
blunt
trauma
to the abdomen
subcutaneous hematomas,
bruising
of different parts
of the body and the head
and the limbs,
including

extensive interstitial hematomas
including

linear hyperemia
including
edema and induration
blood in the gluteal regions
the lumbar region,
the posterior surface
of the hips,
the neck,
the posterior and lateral surfaces
of the chest,
the posterior surface
of the shoulders,
the posterior surface of the ulnar
joints—
many dozens of cases
contusions,
contused wounds,
contused abrasions
of various
body parts,
the head
and the limbs—
many dozens of cases
arterial hypertension,
hypertensive crisis
several cases
convulsive
epileptic seizures
—several cases.
decompensated
diabetes,
(brought from the detention center on Okrestin Lane)
including

death before the arrival of
paramedics,
at 10:35 p.m.
08/10/2020,
Pritytsky Square
one case*
including

*There have now been at least three confirmed deaths from the violence: Alexander Taraikovsky in Minsk, Gennady Shutov in Brest, and Alexander Vikhor in Gomel. Rest in power.

There are also still around eighty people missing nationwide in the wake of the arrests. It is quite likely that at least some of these missing protesters died while being tortured in detention centers. (Thanks to Alexei Borisionik for providing these facts.)

Translation and commentary by Joan Brooks. Photo courtesy of BelarusFeed

Ekaterina Zakharkiv: A Sharpened Grammar

In many ways, Ekaterina Zakharkiv is my favorite contemporary Russophone poet. While her verse is manifestly avant-garde, there is something about the way she combines different lexical and stylistic registers into a seamless and, one could say, “collectivist” idiom that always reminds me of Alexander Pushkin and the revolution he led in Russian poetic discourse. Born in Magadan, Zakharkiv graduated from the Gorky Literary Institute in Moscow and is currently a graduate student at the Institute of Linguistics of the Russian Academy of Sciences. She is an editor at F-Writing, Dream, and the new Almanac Fire, which focuses on the intersection of writing and music.

Ekaterina Zakharkiv

These three translations were published last year in Lana Turner #12. The issue is now available for free as a pdf, so I decided to put them up here as well, hopefully bringing Zakharkiv’s work to a broader audience online.

***
strange weapon of the body, promising to assemble under the targeting apparatus of itself
into the composite noun of the square, the collision of adversaries without confusion of sides
this is touching openness, you say that love is touching
openness
don’t love me then

separation opening division of
po
lice bu
dget re
lations
trucks for an incomplete project
last shots on the national TV stations
last mechanisms last montage
right here, atop the wreckage of the signal, I touch the dust of our collective text
move my fingers over your skin mottled with italics “in the failure of time”

under the smoke-filled sky of an invisible Orleans, doubled maidens unfurl their banners
in the heart’s murky fissures

on the squares of our city the long since melted schedule
of movements, instants of matter
surmounting information

at the crossing of places
in a sundered embrace, a gold lord looks back at the eye
the cool mouth of rose sor
rows of speech
can’t close
even night
even the thin air of night

***
[you’ll forgive me, won’t you, especially if you recognize]
how crooked flames rise and fall from the black sky into the mowed carpet of the conference room
the endless weight that takes the bandages off voids of armchairs, sheets of A4 paper and the exits
if you recognize the fear that buildings stand in, immersed in the hypnosis of context and
the tall aquarium building in spreading cracks, artificial landscapes
through the rolled back ceilings of the music hall, washed out in rays of cold light
especially if you recognize how the constantly changing architecture of hybrid groups
is quietly penetrated by catastrophic panoramas

colonnades, metro tunnels, auditoriums, houses of culture,
an agalma of reinforced plastic

a boarded-up door on the outskirts of language, torn down by a construction brigade
they see thresholds, taste dust
fix the flowing water of the day, a concrete mass, object number 446
everything seems to recoil somewhere, they hear only the deaf breath of the smog above the construction site, leaning on steel railings
only the long peal of this floating, a wind of rubbish, turned inside out
you’ll forgive me this elusive idiom in the flickering of a uniform, especially
if you see the aerial views of history’s treachery, if you can stop
the wire and roses, ripping up the wrappings

***
I catch the blood of the tags by the dim coat check
and walk to the ancient academic rows
exercises in freedom of the approach
of one hundred and forty people, among whom а seeing wolf calls:
you know, they’re asking for you

name a sharpened grammar and, hesitating, become a smoldering heap of broken translation
everything whipped up into living smoke, steel-grey, impersonal
a floor crumbling in the sky above us, yet one particle of the murky front, fed with a spoon of nuclear structure, asks:
where are the centuries that took my younger sky?

othersbiological colonies
endure, no longer being
a large insect pollinates zero which must be plucked
despite certain stalks of long sadness
it’s better if he roam the web links

when we’re trying to sleep and we touch
nothing, resisting nothing
fallen body convulsive
like speech, murdered measure
not stanzas
but nervous fire
more often than not
during the extortionate night

basically, what Nikita’s saying is that you have to capture the moment
when you begin to be the text, and at the same time the not-text
and hold it
then you will attain equality
well, he doesn’t say that so much, or not exactly that
and also I read: the beginning is the negation of what it begins
I would like to capture this moment
and touch the plainness of equality in our given historical paradigm
instead of a splicing of two autonomies
instead of economized language, instead of brotherhood, brother
sister, instead of sisterhood, instead of this very gesture of “stand down.”

Source: Ekaterina Zakharkiv, Felicity Conditions (M.: ARGO-RISK, 2017), pp. 7-8, 5-6, 13-14. Photo courtesy of HSE. Translation and commentary by Joan Brooks. If you would like to support the author’s work, please consider donating. Any amount helps. Please include “Zakharkiv” in the memo line of your contribution.

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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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Muruzi House

brodThe young woman (left) and the late Russian-American poet Joseph Brodsky (right) have nothing to do with the story, told below, of a Central Asian female migrant, working as a residential building caretaker in Petersburg, and her temporarily misplaced daughter. In recent days, however, this “graffiti” portrait of the Nobel laureate, which was quickly painted over, has been the talk of Brodsky’s hometown. The brutal conditions in which Central Asian migrant workers live in Petersburg and other Russian cities are virtually never the talk of the town, although it is their poorly paid drudgery that makes it possible for the “natives” to lead such rich spiritual and intellectual lives, chockablock with fine poetry and heated debates about “street art” and aesthetics. Photograph courtesy of the Instagram page Dom Muruzi

George Losev
Facebook
May 28, 2020

While I was at work, I found a little girl outside the entrance of a residential building. She was calling for her mother, her mommy. She was lost. Although the girl could speak Russian, she was unable, of course, to say where she lived and when she had last seen her mommy. But she was enjoying playing with a broken plastic motorcycle.

I couldn’t go to the police. Who knew what problems with papers the little girl’s family had? In any case, the police would shake down the girl’s mother and father and rob them.

An old lady in the neighborhood with whom I organized an ACSC (ad-hoc committee for saving the child) agreed with my assessment. During the ten minutes of our existence as a committee, we couldn’t come up with anything. Fortunately, the mother—a local building caretaker—showed up and fetched her daughter.

How disgusting it is to live in a society where you can’t go to the police, because the police are robbers and looters with blank stares.

George Losev is a housing authority electrician and revolutionary leftist activist in Petersburg. Translated by the Russian Reader

Riders!

vo-shark-1989Vadim Ovchinnikov, Shark, 1989

Swift-footed riders!
Don’t burn with envy beneath the gaze
Of those who died untimely deaths:
Be untimelier . . . and younger.
Don’t fear those minutes when there are tears in your eyes.
They are your succor.
Take special note of the accent and the gaze.
Don’t turn your back and don’t cower,
Otherwise they’ll finish you off.
Take the high note and sing! It’s better that way.
Don’t burn in acetylene. It’s immoral.

vo-the life of plants-1994Vadim Ovchinnikov, from The Life of Plants, 1994

PEARLY RIDERS!

Ye who write on the cheek of tenderness and delight
with red-hot tongs!
And the world is mad and war . . .
Look at the sky and you will understand
who you are . . .
Crutches are not conducive to movement—
the other self.
Will the unlocking of locks be employed
In gluttony?
We repent.

vo-hutsVadim Ovchinnikov, Huts (year unknown)

RIDERS!

Be careful when choosing medals,
But don’t save yourselves . . .
Thse hell with them, the whiners . . .
Surely there must be JUSTICE!
And there is LENINGRADCONSTRUCT,
Their name is legion—you cannot enumerate the tide,
Although its roar is clear and beloved . . .
A mouse lies there, poisoned by marmalade.
Nasty rotgut! The mouse has almost rotted away,
Its love will no longer touch . . .
The poor thing lies any old where
Like a karakurt.
But there is no evil in the water, is there?
Nor is there in the pit.
The bureau’s slippery railing scurries amid the winds.
And he was merry and tender,
And condemned immoral acts,
He did not outlive his veins, though, kicking the bucket.
And did the veins long pride themselves on the blood?
They were proud of torso and sperm,
Which had their own original guise . . .
He gave himself nothing but happiness.
SCOUNDREL!

watercolor-90sVadim Ovchinnikov, Watercolor, 1990s

RIDERS! AMIGOS!

them ones or those who don’t scratch the backbone . . . backb.
take care

of the backbone!
he is now presented as an asset.
he lies with a kerf along the backbone
and gazes into the distance . . .
stuffed with eyes.
lovely pupils perspiring
he trrrmbles all over like nobody I know.
he’s probably a lover of kisses!

did you go to the plein air painting session? well, how was it?
ah yes, I forgot . . . you shoveled hay
that smelled of roses, bast, fog . . .
then you looked, only . . .
cautiously so as not to break the glove
of the fallen moon.
did you eat horse meat?

Hur-raa-aaa-aah to the riders!!!

♥♥♥♥♥♥♥

Twenty-four years ago today (May 24), the author of these poems and pictures, the artist Vadim Ovchinnikov (1951–1996), was buried by family and friends at Volkovskoye Cemetery in Petersburg. Ovchinnikov worked in a number of media, including painting, watercolor, collage, animation, mail art, conceptual literature, and music. His works can be found in the collections of the State Russian Museum (Petersburg), the Moscow Museum of Modern Art, the Art Museum of Pavlodar (Kazakhstan), and Kai Forsblom Gallery (Helsinki). For more information on Ovchinnikov’s art and life, see the website ov-ov.com. All images courtesy of ov-ov.com. All poems translated by Thomas Campbell