Four Poems

Think about your soul!

Think About Your Soul

The Rotenberg brothers get the pipelines1
Deripaska gets aluminum
Mordashov steel
Magomedov grain
Kovalchuk gets the TV networks and newspapers
Yakunin trains and railroads
Anisimov the liquor industry
Miller gets Gazprom
And the people
once again
get nothing

Think about your soul
think about your soul!
Shut your mouth.
Think about your soul
think about your soul!
Shut your mouth up tight.

Yevtushenkov and Soldatenkov get the cellphone networks
Timchenko gets oil
Kerimov gets potassium
and Kovalchuk energy
The Rotenbergs again? Take chemical fertilizers!
Isaikin gets aircraft missiles and tanks
Timchenko terminals and ferries
Another Rotenberg gets the Khimki forest highway
Gref gets Sberbank
and Kostin, VTB
Prokhorov gets Norilsk Nickel
Prokhorov gets gold
And the people
once again
get nothing

Think about your soul
think about your soul!
Shut your mouth.
Think about your soul
think about your soul!
Shut your mouth up tight.

Lisin gets construction and metallurgy
Friedman the banks and heavy industry
Abramovich gets oil gold metal and cement
Yakimenko gets the Hitlerjugend2
Volodin propaganda
Surkov gets modernization
and Chubais nanotechnlology
Usmanov gets
Alekperov gets gasoline
Mahmudov gets coal
Potanin gets the Olympics
And the people
once again
get nothing

Think about your soul
think about your soul!
Shut your mouth.
Think about your soul
think about your soul!
Shut your mouth up tight.

 — Translated by Keith Gessen


I came in and Putin left
maybe it wasn’t even him
although it seemed like Putin
I came in and he took off

and wherever I might go
Putin in a flash disappears
I just logged in to Facebook
there’s Putin’s heel on its way out

but don’t you worry, it’s safe
here on Facebook for a while
as long as I’m on Facebook
Putin won’t be coming here

but wait, there’s someone knocking
no, not Putin, could it be Putin?
And something’s going to happen to us
but what could really happen

everything’s happened to us already
and to anyone else, it doesn’t matter
it’s got nothing to do with us
and we won’t even notice

and if we notice then so what
it’s not the first time after all
it’s no joke, Putin’s coming
a dark storm covers the sky

 — Translated by Jonathan Platt


you know the Slavs and the Tatars
went and mixed together
and then there were some Slavs
who mixed with the Ugrics
and some other Slavs
mixed with the Finns
and some other Slavs
mixed with the Germans
and some other Slavs
mixed with the Greeks
and then the Mongols
came and got mixed up in everything
but there were still some Slavs
who didn’t mix with anyone
very rare Slavs
unique Slavs
authentic Slavs
pure-blooded Slavs
ideal Slavs
true Slavs
Orthodox Slavs
truly glorious Slavs
the most Slavic of all Slavs
Slavs of glorious Slavs
sweet sweet Slavs
incestuous Slavs
downright gays, not Slavs
I mean hey, Slavs!
hey-hey little Slavs
hey-hey-hey Slavs
eugenics, not Slavs.

 — Translated by Jonathan Platt

You Know Sometimes #4

you know how sometimes you want to write about the working class
you go to the factory district
but there is no working class
just a bunch of hipsters drinking coffee
when you see out of the corner of your eye a giant shadow
it must be a representative of the working classes
you think
and you prepare to write about
how the working class still lives and breathes
when the shadow comes out from around the corner
and puts its finger in your face
don’t write about me, it says,
I know your kind
you make things up that can never happen
then the rest of us spend a century cleaning up the mess

why don’t you write instead
about how with your elegant thin white fingers
that have known neither factory machines nor farm implements
(although, you know what, you can skip that part)
you break off a piece of delicious biscotti

yeah. that would be a lot more realistic
after all you’re so interested in realism

so why don’t you write about how on a sunny May afternoon
you pour yourself a glass of rich red wine
and it sends sparks off your glass, like a snow globe

and as for me I think I can live without
another poem about me, by you,
and anyway what new thing can you say about me?
I know everything about myself already
whereas about a sunny May afternoon
about how ineffably sad one sometimes feels
and how she has such enormous crystal eyes
this you know far better than I
write it. Write about
how a vase full of flowers
wakes up
and pours a child out of itself, with the water

just don’t write about a day in the life of the workers of AvtoVAZ3
and don’t write about young Lenin

write, like Mandelstam, about the yearning for world culture
put yourself somewhere between the bedroom and the chapel

just don’t write anymore about the foundation pit
and try to keep yourself from mentioning solidarity

I think you understand what I’m saying
go and write it
and we’ll read it when we have a break
or maybe we’ll go fishing
or to the bathhouse for a sauna
or maybe to pick mushrooms, the mushrooms are coming up you know
or maybe we’ll go to the theater with our wives using our union cards
or maybe we’ll see the football game, Spartak is coming on, who do you root for?

I apologize if I’ve offended you
the working class has a diverse range of entertainment options
we don’t always have a chance to keep up with contemporary poetry

all right
the main thing is don’t get depressed and start thinking of doing something stupid
I know you poets
first thing that happens you go shooting yourselves or tying up a noose
and then after that our kids come home from literature class all pale
like from another world
they start crying and yelling
dying isn’t anything new in this life
fuck it!

all right, off you go
before I mess up and say anything else
hurt your feelings
and then you’ll get all inward-looking
you’re the one who taught me
a class in itself must become a class for itself
so live for yourself a little bit
take a break
learn to take some pleasure in life
and don’t be so quiet
why are you quiet all the time?
you scare me with this silence of yours
you’re a prophet, after all
so rise up and speak
inflame our hearts
with your elevated verbiage
nothing that is human is alien to us
in fact maybe it’s through you that we see it
otherwise what the fuck do we need you for
if not to tell us things that have never happened
and about paradise here on earth

 — Translated by Keith Gessen

  1. Arkady and Boris Rotenberg, old friends of Vladimir Putin who became billionaires during his reign after winning the contract for most of the gas-pipeline construction in Russia. The rest of the people named in this poem are likewise extremely rich and well-connected titans of Putin-era Russian industry. [Trans.] 

  2. A reference to the Kremlin-funded youth group Nashi (Ours), headed by Vassily Yakimenko. Nashi holds frequent pro-Putin meetings and intimidates opposition activists. [Trans.] 

  3. Russia’s largest car factory, maker of the famous Lada. [Trans.] 

More from Issue 26

Issue 26 Dirty Work

“I like Bernie,” he says. “Trump’s just in it for laughs. I don’t think I’m going to vote.”

Issue 26 Dirty Work

In 2016, Twitter, like money, was speech.

Issue 26 Dirty Work

“You are the problem, Politician,” the Trumpian spat back.

Issue 26 Dirty Work

Women’s economic empowerment was at the heart of Clinton’s politics in the ’90s, and it has been at the heart of her…

Issue 26 Dirty Work

“You must promise me — that you will not spend the next eight weeks ranting at me about colonialism.”

Issue 26 Dirty Work

It is not his talent that made this sentencing a watershed. It is hers.

Issue 26 Dirty Work
Kiddie Porn
Issue 26 Dirty Work
Where's Your Boyfriend?
Issue 26 Dirty Work

She called it “doing money.” MEET ME TO DO MONEY, she would text. I’M IN THE CHILDREN’S SECTION.

Issue 26 Dirty Work
Who Works for the Workers?
Issue 26 Dirty Work
Issue 26 Dirty Work

He’s still on top: / spinning out his dialectic / pillorying the fascists / demanding that his books also be burned on the square

Issue 26 Dirty Work

I see students, fire / /people marching, fire / trembling, feeling, blind / invincible and kind, fire

Issue 26 Dirty Work

“Your second mouth is celestially gentle.” / I say nothing. I’m Angela Merkel.

Issue 26 Dirty Work

Life is hard, death is distant. Let’s multiply this by two and make it simpler.

Issue 26 Dirty Work
This Quiet Place Today
Issue 26 Dirty Work
Why Are We in the Middle East?
Issue 26 Dirty Work

This is a book, in large part, about “cultural capital,” with those quotation marks locked on like handcuffs.

Issue 26 Dirty Work

With so many other smart magazines publishing articles that could have been lifted from, it is difficult to swim against…

More by this Author

March 31, 2016

a long silent pause hung over the leftist poets

October 4, 2013

omit as many vapid passages as possible/ abbreviate, use acronyms

March 29, 2016

While the next level’s loading, try to relax. Listen to the Internationale.