13 October 2015

To Columbo / To Columbo

To Columbo

Dans ma cervelle se promène;
Ainsi qu’en son appartement,
Un beau chat…

It’s for you to teach me how to live—I’ve not done it myself, after all.
How to make oneself smaller (curled up in a tight little ball)
or bigger (stretched out over half of the carpet) than actual size.
I can read your miaow-moirs—miaow-mmeh! deris-
-ive contempt for those creatures who live by the pen,
but bite back now and then.
Take a stroll down my keyboard, your terrific striped tail in tow,
for its sibilant swish is superior to my stuff, you know.
Lie down on my book, and I won’t shoo you off, because
you’re more lyrical, you, than Anna, Marina, Iosif, Boris,
Velemir. What they placed on paper is something that you bear by birth.
So sing me your song with Mandelshtam’s head in your mouth.

Nothing else do I have that can help me get over my fear,
when you’re out after twelve and teeth-baring night is here.

[From Sisyphus Redux, 2000]

(Translation © 2015 G.S. Smith)

To Colombo

Dans ma cervelle se promène;
Ainsi qu’en son appartement,
Un beau chat…

Научи меня жить напоследок, я сам научиться не мог.
Научи, как стать меньше себя, в тугой уплотнившись клубок,
как стать больше себя, растянувшись за полковра.
Мяумуары читаю твои, мемурра
о презрении к тварям, живущим посредством пера,
но приемлемым на зубок.
Прогуляйся по клавишам, полосатый хвостище таща,
ибо лучше всего, что пишу я, твое шшшшшшщщщщщщ.
Ляг на книгу мою - не последует брысь:
ты лиричней, чем Анна, Марина, Велимир, Иосиф, Борис.
Что у них на бумаге - у тебя на роду.
Спой мне песню свою с головой Мандельштама во рту.

Больше нет у меня ничего, чтобы страх превозмочь
в час, когда тебя заполночь нет и ощерилась ночь.

06 October 2015

The Tomcat’s Complaints / Жалобы кота

Loseff's cat - Columbo (1990 – 2008) Коламбо - кот Лосева

The Tomcat’s Complaints

Woe is me, Ow! is me, Oh! poor me.
Neither she-cat nor mouse can calm me.
So dark in October, worse even
than under a Negro’s armpit.

They’re the devil’s bequest, these claws.
I’ll rip out this page in the calendar.
Life, bundle me up in a ball,
take me off on your lap in a tramcar.

Or a taxi, to make it soon.
I’ll look at the crowd of people,
and ask some angry old crone,
‘Who’s next to be put to sleep here?’

[From Чудесный десант (The Miraculous Raid), 1985]

(Translation © 2015 G.S. Smith)

Translator’s note: lines 7-8 contain a sarcastic reference to the opening lines of a famous lyric by Nikolai Zabolotsky about coming back to life, ‘Grant me, starling, a corner,/settle me in your old starling-box’ (‘Уступи мне, скворец, уголок,/Посели меня в старом скворешнике’ (1946).

Жалобы кота

Горе мне, муки мне, ахти мне.
Не утешусь ни кошкой, ни мышкой.
Ах, темно в октябре, ах темней
в октябре, чем у негра под мышкой.

Черт мне когти оставил в залог.
Календарный листок отрываю.
Увяжи меня, жизнь, в уголок,
увези на коленях в трамвае.

Или, чтобы скорее, в такси.
И, взглянув на народа скопленье,
у сердитой старухи спроси:
«Кто последний на усыпленье?»

01 October 2015

So it’s autumn... / Вот и осень...

So it’s autumn. Ho-hum, ho-hum.
Daughter snotty. The cat’s infected.
Why on earth did you have me, mum?
However could that be expected?

With half the day gone to waste,
grab my diary and note if no more but
‘It’s Tuesday. October the 1st.
Rain. The 1st. And it’s Tuesday, October.’

[From Чудесный десант (The Miraculous Raid), 1985]

(Translation © 2015 G.S. Smith)

Вот и осень. Такие дела.
Дочь сопливится. Кошка чумится.
Что ж ты, мама, меня родила?
Как же это могло получиться?

По-пустому полдня потеряв,
взять дневник, записать в нем хотя бы
«Вторник. Первое октября.
Дождик. Первое. Вторник, Октябрь».

17 September 2015

Forgive me... / Извини...

‘Forgive me your thieving’, say I to a thief, a woman;
‘I guarantee not to mention’—this to the hangman—
‘the noose’.
That’s how some foul-smelling throwback slut
expounds to me Kant and the Sermon on the Mount.
I hold my peace.

Instead of this mildew, these insecticided fields,
if only the Volga could flow again into the Caspian Sea,
and horses eat oats as before, 
if clouds of glory could shine over my native land,
if something could come out right, with a happy end.
Touch wood, the language will endure.

[From Тайный советник (Privy Councillor), 1987]

(Translation © 2015 G.S. Smith)

Translator's Note: ‘The Volga flows into the Caspian Sea… Horses eat oats and hay…’ are the dying words of Ippolit Ippolitych, the hero of Chekhov’s ‘The Literature Teacher’ (1894), who ‘either kept silent or spoke only of what everyone had long known’.

«Извини, что украла», - говорю я воровке;
«Обязуюсь не говорить о веревке», -
говорю палачу.
Вот, подванивая, низколобая проблядь
Канта мне комментирует и Нагорную Проповедь.
Я молчу.

Чтоб взамен этой ржави, полей в клопоморе
вновь бы Волга катилась в Каспийское море,
вновь бы лошади ели овес,
чтоб над родиной облако славы лучилось,
чтоб хоть что-нибудь вышло бы, получилось.
А язык не отсохнет авось.

07 September 2015

Joseph Brodsky, Lev Loseff, Sergei Dovlatov et al., or Leningrad of the 1960’s and 70’s / Иосиф Бродский, Лев Лосев, Сергей Довлатов и все-все-все, или Ленинград 1960‒70-х годов

A literary evening presented by Andrei Ustinov: Old Peter City - Joseph Brodsky, Lev Loseff, Sergei Dovlatov et al., or Leningrad of the 1960’s and 70’s. In memory of Vladimir Gerasimov.
September 18th, 2015. Samovar Hall, Mountain View, California.
Андрей Устинов представляет литературный вечер «Старый Питер бока повытер»: Иосиф Бродский, Лев Лосев, Сергей Довлатов и все-все-все, или Ленинград 1960‒70-х годов.
Рассказ-путеводитель по «переименованному городу» памяти Володи Герасимова.
Вход – $20.00 (at the door)
September 18th, 2015. Samovar Hall, Mountain View, California

03 September 2015

The Petrograd Side / Петроградская сторона

The Petrograd Side, 1974 / Петроградская сторона, 1974
Photo: Lev Loseff

The Petrograd Side

And are my letters reaching you?
                  I’m as before...

On Sundays children used to come, checking
whether or not still floating in the pool
were soggy bits of bread and toffee wrappers,
whether still stuck in the birdcage netting
was lime-glued fluff and (if you’re lucky) plumage,
whether or not that bone still lay there rotting
away on urine-saturated sawdust,
and whether she still bawled her brutal anguish,
the ticket woman in her boarded cage.

It all remained exactly as before.
The cannon boomed, and yet the clock stood still.
A tram strummed on the bridge but held the rails.
The river rippled but refused to flow.
We said goodbyes, but still we didn’t part.
And only that notorious Neva wind
kept playing the bully at that barbarous crossroads
between the state-administrated mosque,
the constructivist stockade and fort, and
the lumpen high-ups’ temple-simulacrum,
raping the passersby in alleyways,
ripping at coats so savagely
you’d think it was alive.

And then in that big space the tumult died.
The tram that had my number on arrived.
And everything swung into motion.
All of a sudden, like an exclamation
made off the bat, that comes out stupid.

My friend jumped on the past just as it left,
leaving one foot back in this rancid hell,
the other one on something that was moving.

[From Чудесный десант (The Miraculous Raid), 1987]

(Translation © G.S. Smith 2015)

[Author’s note] The Petrograd Side is a borough in Petersburg. In the square mentioned in the poem, there is a big mosque and next to it two buildings, one constructivist and one stalinesque, built for the Party elite. The city zoo is not far away.
‘... you’d think it was alive...’: from The Captain’s Daughter, the novel by Alexander Pushkin.

Петроградская сторона

Доходит ли до тебя мои письма?
Я по-прежнему…

По воскресеньям дети шли проверить,
по-прежнему ли плавают в бассейне
размокший хлеб с конфетною оберткой,
по-прежнему ли к проволоке вольера
приклеены пометом пух и перья,
по-прежнему ли подгнивает кость
на отсыревших от мочи опилках,
по-прежнему ли с нечеловеческой тоской
ревет кассирша в деревянной клетке.

Все оставалось на своих местах.
Палила пушка, но часы стояли.
Трамвай бренчал, но не съезжал с моста.
Река поплескивала, но не текла.
И мы прощались, но не расставались.
И только пресловутый ветер
куражился на диком перекрестке
меж зданий государственной мечети,
конструктивистского острога и
храмоподобье хамовитой знати,
насилуя прохожих в подворотнях,
так беспощадно плащи срывая, что
казался одушевленным.

Но ветер вдруг в парадной помер.
Подошел трамвай мой номер.
Все задвигалось, пошло.
И это все произошло
с поспешностью дурацкого экспромпта.

Друг в прошлое запрыгал на ходу,
одной ногой в гноящемся аду,
другой ногой на движущемся чем-то.

26 August 2015

Historian and educator Vladimir Gerasimov has died in Saint Petersburg / В Петербурге умер историк и педагог Владимир Герасимов

Vladimir Gerasimov /  Владимир Герасимов 1935-2015
(Photo Lev Loseff)

Nina Mokhova-Loseff, Vladimir Gerasimov, Natasha Sharymova, Lev Loseff

(Photo Lev Loseff)

(Photo Lev Loseff)

Gerasimov and Brodsky
(Photo Lev Loseff)

Gerasimov and Brodsky
(Photo Lev Loseff)

Gerasimov and Loseff

Yuz Aleshkovsky, Gerasimov and Brodsky
(Photo Lev Loseff)

15 August 2015

Gutta-Percha / Гуттаперча

The Gutta-Percha Boy, 1928 edition


I’ve had it with all of this irony shit!
Let’s get back to the books from when I was a kid!
It squeezes my rubber-ball heart, when,
gutta-percha boy, time comes for parting.

‘Brownie’, ‘Blind Music-Man’, ‘Tiny Phil’—what?
Who was it wrote them—Tolstoy, or did God?
The Giver of Good, or Chekhov?
Some nuts for the monkey, I reckon—

he can pick them all up in his miniature paw,
and pop them with care in his miniature maw.
Our eyeballs are suddenly burning—
no use, the tears will come bursting.

For the sweetest of weeping who cares what reproach?
We still pity the hare and the wolf and the fox.
But bogeyman tempests are over,
gutta-percha is gone for ever.

[From Sisyphus Redux, 2000]

(Translation © G.S. Smith 2015)

The Gutta-Percha Boy is a story for children (1883) by D.V.Grigorovich (1822-1900), about an orphan who is trained as a circus acrobat and comes to a tragic end; it was made into what became a classic Soviet film in 1957.
‘Brownie’ (Каштанка) is a story by Chekhov named for the mongrel who is its hero, ‘The Blind Music-Man’ (Слепой Музыкант) is a novel by Vladimir Korolenko, and ‘Tiny Phil’ (Филиппок) is a story for children by Tolstoy.


Как осточертела ирония, блядь;
ax, снова бы детские книжки читать!
Сжимается сердце, как мячик,
прощай, гуттаперчевый мальчик.

“Каштанка”, “Слепой музыкант”, “Филиппок” —
кто их сочинитель — Толстой или Бог?
Податель Добра или Чехов?
Дадим обезьянке орехов!

Пусть крошечной ручкой она их берет,
кладет осторожно в свой крошечный рот.
Вдруг станет заглазье горячим,
не выдержим мы и заплачем.

Пусть нас попрекают сладчайшей слезой,
но зайчика жалко и волка с лисой.
Промчались враждебные смерчи,
и нету нигде гуттаперчи.

28 July 2015

1937 — 1947 — 1977

1937 — 1947 — 1977

The dacha’s fast asleep. Out back,
caped in his brave Caucasian cover,
the Georgian elder, hunching over,
puffs on his native home-grow bacc-
-y. Worried. Seized by an attack
of sadness. Here he’s raised a daughter,
now Jewboys have her in the sack.
Poster with smiling Mamlakat.

That Bessarabian slice he got,
that watery bowl of soup, the Baltic—
with molars smoke-cured by tobacco
he’s managed to grind down the lot.
No end of rellies need a slot.
Enemies buried. Toadies quaking.
A play called Tanya. Novel, Sot′.
Thou didst create this flesh, O God.

Life has got better. Happier too.
Three cheers! The Soviet Union’s building.
The troikas have wound up their business.
You’re Jewish — no one gives a hoot.
Suvorov kids in bullfinch suit.
There’s bread and butter, caviar, bottles.
‘Why don’t you take this hundred rou…?’
I’m sad it’s gone now, even though...

‘No hands under the blankets, titch!
Then you might grow up just like Khomich.
Don’t f*ck with Daddy’s change, just watch it!
No tears about some little glitch’.
‘Don’t blame the war for all your shit’.
(‘There really was one, Yerofeich?’
‘We must have dreamed it, Spotykach’.)
Grandad’s an army doc, a catch.

From thinking back I’m feeling bright.
Soon I’ll be too far gone to rescue.
Let me go home, to that extensive
apartment that deletes delight.

(Translation © 2015 G.S. Smith)

[From Чудесный десант (The Miraculous Raid), 1985]

Translator's Notes: This is probably the most allusive of all Lev Loseff’s poems. For non-Russians, and probably also for Russians not of his generation, the following points may clarify some of the obscurities. Despite the implication of the poem’s title, the subject matter departs from chronological order.
The verse form unmistakably alludes to a famous virtuoso lyric by Boris Pasternak, ‘Second Ballad’ (1930), but does not reproduce it exactly. Loseff lays bare the allusion by re-using Pasternak’s first line, and then addresses public events of the Stalin period, before turning to the private world that Pasternak deals with exclusively in his poem. Losev is much more intimate, though.
Stalin’s daughter Svetlana (1926-2011) had an affair in 1942 with the film director Aleksei Kapler (1903-79), which resulted in his being arrested for ‘anti-Soviet activity’ and given 5 years in the GULag. 
Mamlakat Nakhangova (1924-) was a Stakhanovite record-breaking cotton-picker from Tadzhikistan, famous for being photographed with Stalin, and for a poster of her smiling face. She later became a college teacher of English, retiring in 1985.
The USSR annexed part of Bessarabia, and the Baltic countries of Latvia, Lithuania, and Estonia, in 1940 under the provisions of the Nazi-Soviet (or ‘Ribbentrop-Molotov’) pact of 1939.
Tanya by Aleksei Arbuzov (1908-86), first performed in 1939, remained one of the most widely performed plays in the USSR.
Sot′ (1930), by Leonid Leonov (1899-1994), is a classic Soviet industrialisation novel, set on the river of that name, which flows through the Yaroslavl region of European Russia, northeast of Moscow.
‘Life has got better, comrades, life has got more happy’ was a phrase used by Stalin in his speech to the 1935 Conference of Stakhanovites; it became perhaps the most famous slogan of the entire Soviet period.
‘The Soviet Union’s building’ refers to The USSR Constructs, the title of a lavishly illustrated propaganda monthly that was published from 1935 to 1941 and then again in 1949.
‘Troikas’ here refers to the three-person NKVD kangaroo courts that pronounced hundreds of thousands of summary sentences during Stalin’s Great Terror.
Cadets at the elite Suvorov Military Academies, founded in 1943 in Leningrad, wear distinctive black and red uniforms. They are named in honour of the national hero General Suvorov (1730-1800), for whom Derzhavin wrote an elegy called ‘The Bullfinch’, because the song of his caged bullfinch reminded him of the fife in military bands.
Aleksei ‘Tiger’ Khomich (1920-80) was a legendary goalkeeper who started his career with Dinamo Moscow.
Yerofeich and Spotykach are classic strong flavoured vodkas.

1937 — 1947 — 1977

На даче спят. В саду, до пят
закутанный в лихую бурку,
старик-грузин, присев на чурку,
палит грузинский самосад.
Он недоволен. Он объят
тоской. Вот он растил дочурку,
а с ней теперь евреи спят.


Плакат с улыбкой Мамлакат.

И Бессарабии ломоть,
и жидкой Балтики супешник —
его прокуренный зубешник
все, все сумел перемолоть.
Не досчитаться дядь и теть.
В могиле враг. Дрожит приспешник.
Есть пьеса — «Таня». Книга «Соть».


Господь, Ты создал эту плоть.

Жить стало лучше. Веселей.
Ура. СССР на стройке.
Уже отзаседали тройки.
И ничего, что ты еврей.
Суворовцев, что снегирей.
Есть масло, хлеб, икра, настойки.
«Возьми с собою сто рублей».


И по такой, грущу по ней.

«Под одеяло рук не прячь,
и вырастешь таким, как Хомич.
Не пи..ди у папаши мелочь.
Не плачь от мелких неудач».
«Ты все концы в войну не прячь».
(Да и была ли, Ерофеич?» —
«Небось приснилось, Спотыкач».)


Мой дедушка — военный врач.

Воспоминаньем озарюсь.
Забудусь так, что не опомнюсь.
Мне хочется домой, в огромность
квартиры, наводящей грусть.

13 July 2015

Polemic / Полемика


No—only happenstance has beauty
in this appalling world of ours,
where prison escorts grimace, bare teeth,
and make us grovel on all fours.

A sudden opening in a cloudbank,
a botched line by the poet Blok,
a fragment from the Soviet songbook
in neighbourhoods of cinderblock.

(Translation © 2015 G.S. Smith)

[From Тайный советник (Privy Councillor), 1987]


Нет, лишь случайные черты
прекрасны в этом стрaшном мире,
где конвоиры скалят рты
и ставят нас на все четыре.

Внезапный в тучах перерыв,
неправильная строчка Блока,
советской песенки мотив
среди кварталов шлакоблока.