To K. Vanshenkin
Our railway car was like a gypsy camp.
Raucous shouting everywhere.
The left platform stuffed with hay,
sailors sleeping like gods.
‘Marusya, ‘ someone bellowed softly.
A red-haired cat gulped cabbage soup.
A somber fellow was being taught
never to cheat at cards.
Hamming it up wasn’t new to me
and I became famous in those circles
thanks to my tall American boots.
took me by the elbow,
asking me to sell them,
only let them pat them,
and tap them on the soles.
But below me,
on the way to some Yetkul,
a boy my age
with a thick head of hair,
barefoot, in enormous riding breeches.
And so what,
if I have boots,
and he is barefoot,
well, so what! –
but for some reason I tried
to look at him less often…
I don’t remember
in just what place
our train stopped for five minutes.
The whole car was excited by the news:
they are giving out something! ‘
Half asleep, dimly cursing everything,
I wanted to put on my boots,
but someone screamed, running by:
‘You’re going to be late!
Get a move on! ‘
I ran off,
but in the frightening din
by the station hall,
in the distance,
and with my boots,
I caught sight of that boy.
Took off in a storm after the thief.
I was righteous in mighty anger.
I jumped from one car buffer to another,
tearing my pants on something.
Chased after him with all my strength.
I pinned him to a train car
where giving back my boots in silence,
he suddenly burst out crying and ran away.
in a kind of shock
stared and stared through the slanting rain,
as he ran
over the raw ground
of autumn, crying, barefoot…
Then the imposing, portfolio-carrying,
chief old resident of the car
offered me half a glass
of Novosibirsk port wine.
Girls patched my pants
assuring me that it was not serious,
and out the window power lines
flew up and then dove down.
Translated by Albert C. Todd