New Russian Political Poets
The “Afghan” Market: Kuzminki
Life is hard, death is distant. Let’s multiply this by two and make it simpler.
Hamlet is a wholesale and retail supplier of fur products at the “Afghan” Market in Kuzminki, a district of Moscow
Galina is a saleswoman who works at a notions and lingerie counter in the market
Why you holding nails in your mouth?
Don’t swallow . . .
Got to nail down
A plank that’s come loose from the stall.
How long you worked here?
I came on last month,
Started out with cosmetics.
Now Arthur supplies me with notions and lingerie.
Hamlet Want to switch to leather and fur?
For something in return, or just like that, for free?
Well, for a couple tricks in the fitting room. But it’s up to you.
You know, I was just with a guy for a month,
But I’m not always able to please.
Doesn’t matter: just breathe deeply.
But there’s this looker here — Larissa from Nalchik, in stall 27.
She sells shoes and supposedly puts out after work for thirty.
Yeah, I did her day before yesterday,
And today she’s with Arthur.
So what’s it going to be?
I don’t know.
When I get home after work
I stare at the door until I get hungry,
Then I eat and sing along with my meal.
I have no pitch, so the neighbors think I’m screaming.
Soon as they bang the wall with a mop, I shut up.
Then I go into the bathroom and discuss a talk show with myself
Or sing some more.
But what can I get in that bathroom, what’s there time to get?
How to come out of there with at least something
That will last you till you fall asleep and think: I do have
Or rather, some sort of rustling?
Whatever. Let’s go to a fitting room.
Tell me how much you want — I’m not stingy.
You promised to put me on fur.
The percentages there are high, so if I leave Arthur
For expensive merchandise,
Then only for a 20 percent cut.
Go screw yourself, huh?
Do you think I could fuck you over?
Ask anyone here at the Afghan whether Hamlet’s
Ever fucked anyone over.
Everyone thinks that sellers understand only
The thingish part of life, as it were,
Only cutting loose from the pipeline with vodka.
But I don’t drink vodka:
You can’t drink longing away.
So what we going do?
Well, let me count my invoices and then we’ll go to a fitting room.
Green bras, China — three pairs.
Bodysuits, the Baltics — five. Panties, Belarus — thirty.
Socks, Smolensk Region — I sold all twenty pairs.
Lingerie sets, Italy — only four.
That’s it: let’s go.
Hang on, let me finish my cigarette.
When you going to put me on fur?
In a week or so.
There’s this series on Channel One now
About a man’s life, about his existence on earth.
He sort of lives but doesn’t know
Whether he has everything or has nothing at all.
Now he’s told, “You’re an asshole,” or later a broad licks him all over and lies beside him,
And he wants all this so bad he could scream,
Then suddenly he feels lazy and hides in his coat.
You seen it? The third episode’s on tonight.
Hang on while I run to the john.
Hamlet (to himself)
She’s some kind of jerk.
I should have hit on that one with the perm.
The heck with it: the broads here are just all sweaty pieces of crap anyway.
That’s that: I’ll pack up now,
And you run and get me a Fanta while I’m busy.
Hamlet goes to a kiosk.
Galina (to herself)
Another wog, but who else here is going to bite?
I’ll suffer through it somehow. With fur
Even if you sell only one item a day, the profit is around two hundred bucks right off.
If I make at least a thousand and a half a week,
I’ll rent a flat near the subway, go to the mall with Tonya,
Visit a salon, buy boots like Ksenia Sobchak’s.
I can take driving lessons,
And wear only foreign underwear.
Hamlet (bringing her a Fanta)
Here — drink.
Oh, I was so thirsty.
A cell phone rings. Hamlet answers it.
Hello? Yeah, eight spots. I’ll do the cashing out tomorrow.
Two of the coats are rotten: give them to Zoya to sell.
What of it? Stolen coats are still clothing.
I can’t now. Tell Alik not
To fuck up the order. He’s got to feel it out.
No, don’t buy nutria. Later.
Should we go?
Which fitting room, the one here on the first floor?
Or on the second? There’s no one at all on the second.
OK, let’s go.
Sorry for asking,
But did you remember to bring condoms?
I don’t even hit on anyone without a rubber.
Not even because of infection.
I’ve got manners, you see?
People have no manners nowadays: lots of assholes around.
Oh, shawarma! Let me treat you.
I haven’t eaten anything since morning.
That’s OK. I’ll pay.
They sit down and eat.
So in the last episode he’s trying to decide.
He doesn’t understand what to do next, so
He’s trying to decide how to kick the bucket. There’s pills,
Jumping out a window, but that’s painful. Basically
He’s afraid. Then he thinks about his reasons for living.
Well, he’s got a woman, he also has a wife sort of,
But it’s not clear how he can go on with her.
You can’t do anything more than what you’re already doing.
There won’t be anything else.
He’s got a good job sort of:
It’s enough to live on.
Only one thing ain’t clear: what’s the point of life itself,
What you supposed to do with it?
Hamlet’s cell phone rings.
Hello, what’s up? For four smackers?
What year is the car? OK, I’ll be there in twenty minutes.
Listen, I need to check out a car,
A BMW that came in yesterday. Can you wait half an hour?
OK, but don’t be late. Otherwise, the market will be closed.
Hamlet drives off.
To be is necessary.
Being ill is forbidden.
Be helpful somehow or be somebody.
I’ll wait for thirty minutes, of course.
There’s nothing above the visible or below it, either.
You close your eyes and there’s only bottom.
Yet everyone is born
With a little bit of info about that very thing.
Selling leather coats,
Meatballs at a deli.
Paying the rent.
Lucking out with fur coats and traveling to Turkey.
But what if all this is needless?
Maybe one should just go out on the highway
And walk along until one faints?
So did you miss me? Let’s go.
They go to a fitting room.
You can leave your skirt on.
The pantyhose — take them off completely.
Look: there’s no ceiling here.
We’re in the fitting room, but if you look up
You see the entire market,
You’re flat as a board.
If you’ve changed your mind, I’ll go.
Looks like furs aren’t in the cards for me.
Wait! We should go to the first-aid room.
There’s a bed there and a tap.
You can wash yourself off if you need.
Has the nurse left for sure?
She hardly ever shows up.
Everything will be cool.
We’ve got twenty minutes for sure.
We’ll be done before Rafik calls.
Lift up your sweater, but keep your skirt on.
They go to the first-aid station. Galina lies down, lifting up her skirt. Then she suddenly jumps out of the bed.
Are you kidding or something, bitch?
Even for free I don’t need someone like you.
Because your texture’s cheap. Look, there’s cellulite everywhere.
Don’t be angry. The smell of iodine was so strong
I couldn’t concentrate. OK,
I won’t breathe through the nose, only the mouth.
Man is not interested in man,
He does not interest him as a man.
Some kind of need of his interests him —
Selling fur, making more money.
Hamlet slaps her in the face and zips up his fly.
Are you a frigid chick or something?
I’m an average seller,
An average product. An average body and even worse.
An average face. An average love and average death.
Who needs a guy like you?
What are you like with your mom,
when you’re not showing off?
My mother, I can tell you, is a slut.
She’s an all-round slut,
Why is that?
No reason. She was a manager at a factory,
Something like a top-flight seamstress.
What’s wrong with that?
I’ll tell you what. If you loved the Party,
And now you love what’s given you —
A kiosk, say, your own supplier, a stall,
Your live-in lover Lyokha.
Fuck, if only the whole country were a monastery.
You know, once upon a time my life was OK.
Then suddenly things went wrong,
As if I’d never love anyone again.
Television my bodyguard,
Watch over me always.
And also I like snow a lot:
It’s sort of my shroud.
Fine, let’s go to my place.
I’ve got a two-room flat not far from here, in Tekstilshiki,
Moscow, Moscow, Moscow, Moscow.
They get into Hamlet’s car.
Galina (in the car)
No impressions, no mood,
Saints live and die without faith and fear,
Huddled against a blank door.
We’re here. There’s the skating rink —
That hockey player, you see, is quite soaked.
I got only vodka and juice in the fridge.
I drink a screwdriver before going to bed.
They enter the flat.
Help me move the couch, like that. I’m lying down.
Come on already.
I only have to freshen up.
I brought a bra-and-panty set from the Baltics.
If you don’t like it, tell me.
I’ll be quick.
Oh! Your place is so dirty!
It ain’t the Radisson, OK?
Galina comes out in cheap lace lingerie.
I could care less about underwear.
Take me in your mouth.
Shit, what is it you don’t get now?
It’s mink I want to sell. The rest ain’t fur but shit,
Although it sells.
All the same I’ve long wanted to work only with mink.
Come on, you deaf?
But you haven’t got it up yet.
How can I get it up if you’re like a corpse, goddammit?!
Galina (suddenly turning the TV on)
That series is going to start now.
During the commercials I’ll do you, OK?
Putin is finishing his speech . . .
Putin’s image is on the screen.
We have always stood for organization, we have always followed developments.
Joining the WTO marks a new milestone in the
development of Russia’s economy. We are getting close
to implementing this idea.
My fellow citizens, our enemies prevent us
From understanding the heart’s great simplicity.
They prevent us
From loving and believing.
They don’t understand our joy,
Our happiness and grace,
Our victory, which makes it possible to die in any
Garbage dump of the Motherland.
My fellow citizens,
We’re already in paradise, albeit on credit.
That is why we’re shining, why Moscow’s shining,
Why our nation is racing forward in automobiles.
What covers up the hole, the nothing?
Television, a new coat.
Everyone has a window-size crack in them.
Some use a bandage, some gag it shut.
But I let the wind blow through it.
All right, the commercials are on. We have time before the show starts.
What should we start with — oral or anal?
From my point of view, it’s all the same, all equally far.
At home, in a hotel or in a trash dump,
Whichever way you cut it.
You’d probably like it better if I put it in here.
Maybe you choose while I wait.
Then let’s do it without a condom.
I don’t feel like wearing a rubber right now.
Fine. For fur, I’ll put up with it.
If you want, of course, what
It is you want.
If you know how to do it.
If you’re able to penetrate
What is open anyway.
Come on. The clock is ticking.
Wait. Should we watch Friske’s
Fine. I’ll put on my panties while we watch.
Look — they’re gold.
Stotskaya’s panties in her last video were also gold.
I’ve never sold gold panties.
Silver, metallic, yes.
Metallic panties sell well nowadays.
A chick like that you can hire for a month
For around a hundred thousand.
Rafik could afford it, but he says
Cheaper isn’t any worse.
If I worked the streets,
I’d do it only for free.
I wonder, if a girl loved everyone
As deeply as Christ,
Would she become a free whore?
Would she care less
Who abused her and who wooed her?
She would suffer and cry,
But let everyone do her.
And if I started drawing like an artist,
I’d let children play
With my pictures.
I’d crush sculptures like sugar cubes
And stick them under the tongue, in the mouth.
Or I’d take them out of the show
And give them to weavers in Rudnya for their own use.
I don’t know about Rudnya,
But in Moscow people know what this art is,
That it’s something profitable and cool,
So it will sell.
Then may nothing acquire a price,
Let the people in Rudnya stare at what has no price.
So you know how to draw or something?
If you don’t, then stop bullshitting.
All I know how to do so far is wanting to give.
But I can’t give away lingerie for free:
I’d end up owing Arthur.
Although let’s say I gave the product away for free,
And paid for them myself with tricks.
But there’s not enough of me to pay for everything.
I’d wear myself out,
And he wouldn’t always want payment from me.
A guy needs variety: why would he want me all the time?
There can’t just be one product.
If you’re such a selfless bitch,
Why’d you come with me?
You’re not cut out for fur.
Luxury goods aren’t your thing.
Let me do you doggy style
Or I kick you out of your stall.
Then what am I cut out for?
Am I not cut out even for lingerie?
What about mittens, shoelaces,
Chinese children’s trousers?
Fine, I’ll leave you on lingerie.
Let me do you from behind.
Hamlet’s cell phone rings.
Hello, yeah. They’ve already brought them?
How many secondhand coats, two? That’s OK:
We’ll put on new tags, give them a cleaning, and they’ll go for seven hundred.
I have to put on my panties again.
Maybe it’s already time for me to go home?
Maybe I can do you, say, next time?
What you crying for?
You’re a slut anyway,
Crying like a baby again.
How can I love this country? That’s why I’m crying.
How can I call it my own?
How can I fall asleep in it?
I don’t know who to love,
Maybe I should begin loving you?
What the heck, love me if it floats your boat.
It’s cheaper when things are done for love,
Profitable for everyone:
The menfolk, the president,
The state, the entire country.
UN, OSCE, O
Hamlet’s cell phone rings.
Hello. Yeah, Mom. I don’t know. I can’t right now.
It’s OK. Fine. Later. Yeah.
Of course, fine. Where would I go?
Where would I go? Where the heck would I go?
I smoke, yes. And how’s your life?
I mean, how’s it going?
As usual, we got cut off.
Listen, Galya, I have to be at the market at seven in the morning.
The subway is closed,
I’m not taking you anywhere now. It’s time to go to bed.
If you want, stay and sleep, here’s a blanket.
Or take a cab, go home yourself.
It’s late. I’ll lie here till morning.
They lie down in different rooms. Twenty minutes later, Galina gets up and goes to Hamlet, who has fallen asleep.
Galina (reciting Tsvetaeva’s “Poems to an Orphan”)
What rainbow is to the eye,
Black soil to grain,
A man’s need
For man is to man.
More than rainbow and rain,
It’s just a hand I need
The need of a man’s
Hands in my hand.
This is wider than Ladoga
And truer than a mountain,
The need of somebody’s
Wounds in my hand.
And because you brought
Your palm to me, this hand,
With a wound — I would
Plunge into the fire for you!
She pauses. Then she begins reciting Tsvetaeva’s “Poem of the End.”
Wanting is a matter for bodies,
But we are souls
Henceforth . . .
We cannot fall into step, into time.
Take my arm! Are we convicts, to act this way?!
She lies down beside Hamlet.
A shock. As if someone has with his soul come to lie
On my hand!
Warmth, rib — that is why I cling so.
Only the side is alive
That I press against the side contiguous.
That woman — remember, mom
You called her? — wholly and utterly
She held you no nearer.
Understand! We have grown into one, we happened!
I press closer, and
Life . . . and I am inalienable.
To cast aside like a thing
Me, who did not care for
A single thing in this
Inflated, thingish world!
Say it’s a dream!
That it’s night, and after night there is morning,
The Express and Rome!
She falls asleep on the couch next to Hamlet.
6:30 am. Hamlet wakes up. Galina is still asleep.
Seems it’s already dawn.
Got to get ready, the market won’t wait. Is that you? Hey.
I had a dream about a world with no walls.
I saw you close, skin to skin, to the very veins.
There’s wind, wind all round, not a blow dryer in the john.
Galina (waking up)
Life is hard, death is distant.
Let’s multiply this by two and make it simpler.
So many rays coming through the window,
Maybe space and time have already flown?
Your cheap lipstick is all over the place.
We’ll wipe it off with toilet paper and see a face.
— Translated by Thomas Campbell