Pleased to Meat You

Dana Sideros

In English lessons at school
it was dictations that scared me most
because I would mix up meet and meat,
ship and sheep, chick and cheek.

I would write
The ship eats green grass.
The big sheep goes to sea at dawn.
I like this fried meet.
Grandma’s cheeks are yellow and funny.

If a native speaker hears you,
one of the teachers told us,
if a native speaker hears you,
they’ll find it painful, and you’ll be embarrassed.

My English has grown a bit since then,
but it is still hamstrung and stunted.

On an island in the middle of the ocean
My clumsy English and I
chatted once with a hostel mate, a Chinese woman.
She told me she had traveled by bus
through Texas, Louisiana, and Florida,
but then in Florida, in Miami,
homesickness had caught up with her,
because she did not find a Chinatown there.
Her story was exactly the same as mine.
I had traveled the same route,
and for some reason it was in Miami,
a city of dancing in the streets, beaches, cocktails, happiness, and sunshine,
where I’d also felt like going home
to the dirty gloom of Moscow in November.

But earlier, on the outskirts of Orlando,
my poor English and I
told a homeless guy,
sitting on the sidewalk in a bad neighborhood,
that my country
had, a year earlier, attacked its neighbor
and taken away the island of Cream
(I still don’t remember the word for “semi-island.”)
People always thinking up some shit, he nodded,
vaguely motioning
towards a better neighborhood.

My lopsided English and I
bought a summer dress
(baby, why do you hide your figure),
looked for a laundromat
(I had to wash my clothes),
explained the rules of a board game
(and then these guys die and go home the same way).

Language wasn’t the problem, it turned out.
I, a native speaker of Russian,
hear native speakers of Russian,
and all the words are muddled.
But my clumsy Russian and I
don’t despair — we memorize words
and phrases that come in handy in conversation.

If someone slaps you,
turn the other chick.
Pleased to meat you.

Source: Dana Sideros, Facebook, 26 June 2022. Translated by the Russian Reader. Dana Sideros is a Russian playwright and poet, currently living in Portugal. The photo of her, above, is by Slava Kovalevich.

Becoming Animal

To become wolf, wild boar,
badger or marten,
dig a hole secretly at dawn,
lie all the way down,
eat ravenously, and praise
the lumps of red loam.
The sun shall rise and say,
Tarry there,
Russian soldier.
Those the butchery has belched out
are not welcome anywhere.
Give a thought to your daughters:
don’t drag a scoundrel of a father
back home.
Become newt, wood snake, hare.

To become whelk, walleye,
seahorse, sturgeon,
sink into the Black Sea
far beyond the buoy.
The sun shall rise and say, Oh!
Well done, soldier, lesson learned.
You were a mediocre monster,
but now it’s the reverse:
you’re a magenta medusa,
a winsome bottlenose dolphin.

To be pelican, oriole,
wood grouse, seagull,
you don’t need to do anything at all:
you can just jump and yell.
You can flock together in a beautiful V,
sing in unison in a shambolic choir,
dwell among oak and snowball trees,
mountains and springs,
fly over what was recently a town,
but is only ashes and blood now.
The sun has risen long ago:
turn into hawks and loons.

There’s no need to return home.
Why would we want a murderer in the house?
Start squirming, crawling,
growling, chirping, branching,
pollinating lime trees and chestnuts,
gobbling mice,
bellowing outside the window in April
so that someone barefoot runs out into April
and gets cross
that they were woken.

Dana Sideros, 4 April 2022

Source: Michael Basin, Facebook, 5 April 2022. Thanks to Leonid Gegen for the link. Originally posted on VK by Dana Sideros on 5 April 2022. Meta deleted a post containing the poem from Sideros’s Facebook page. Various attempts to get them to restore the post have failed, apparently. Translation and photo by the Russian Reader.