The woman walked past Execution Block
on Red Square
carrying rolls of toilet paper,
twenty at least,
not in her arms,
but on twine hanging from her neck.
These are the necklaces of Mother Russia today!
And this woman-
my God! -was almost proud,
while my head all but pounded
the cobblestones,
ashamed that in the Russia
of Gagarin and Shostakovich
trials and torments
of getting necessities
are so demeaning!
Why brains and courage enough
for the cosmos,
but not
for toilet paper?
We heroically build difficulties.
I can’t say it otherwise-
From Execution Block
in consternation
the severed skull of Stenka Razin watches
a brawl over track shoes
in the Moscow Mall.
His gouged eyes stare,
inside out,
at the Russian woman
bearing her antedeluvian yoke
like a Mongol captive.
Right in front of the Kremlin
someone hauls a pedal sewing machine,
a Persian rug,
with no Persian princess, for sure.
If each day
this antedeluvian deluge appears,
it’s hard for Stenka’s severed head to grasp
who are the boyars and who are the serfs.
We live in a land
that’s not comfortable,
the first in some things,
but in others antedeluvian,
and our antedeluvianism has
a putrid spirit, half boyar
half serf.
When our bedraggled quasi-boyars
deposit grain
in a storehouse with a rotten roof
and throw computers out
to perish under snow-
it smells like a raid by Genghis Khan.
Quasi-boyars stare arrogantly,
but if you dig into them-
there’s the batting
of servility.
It was they who put into parks,
empty and sexless,
antedeluvian plaster discus-throwers.
Their discus-throwers crumble at the slightest touch.
Their alarm clocks won’t wake up
without an alarm clock.
Don’t try to dress up
in their stores,
where there are no dresses-but curses,
no shoes-but abuse.
Their vegetable bins-
are pits for mortals.
A store can’t be a temple
for those who turn temples into stores!
It’s their necklaces
of spools of toilet paper
our suffering women wear,
certainly not pearls.
How I want to believe:
The unsung song will be sung.
Like a spring flood
we’ll wash away all antedeluvianism,
and around the necks of our loved ones,
we will place
the real necklaces
they deserve!

Translated by Albert C. Todd and James Ragan

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