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Bunin: Portrait with the Person Missing

In the mirror behind his back
recent times are floating
red flags and standards of the Cossacks
his reflection
a hollow silhouette

into the space he left
a man is being squeezed
he can't go in, groans
than somehow manages -

and the framework of parallels and meridians
cracks all over the globe

(First published in ''Cyphers'', Ireland)

The Wind of History

The beggar was standing in the underpass in front of the Ministry of Education. Noticing a rare passer-by, he unbuttoned his Commissar greatcoat with the suddenness of a magician's gesture. The art of the future, which he heralded for quite some time, instantly came to light from the pockets full of poets, musicians, and actors. Having pulled out one of those figures, he began to inflate it with puffs of vain air.
      No one was paying him any attention; they all were going on about their business. Deeper into the night, a couple of culturally concerned passers-by pitched the idea of inflating all the figures at once.
      The clock finally struck midnight. The figures were staring at the concert and theatre playbills and bowing like puppets in the wind.

Somewhere in Eastern Europe

It was the year the townsfolk shaved off their hair, believing that bad thoughts were getting trapped in it. The hairstylists were banned from the area. The grey-winged hens of Palawy laid their eggs all around the town.
      After school, I worked my way home through hair-drifts. My grandmother acquired the strange habit of tearing away the last page of my school compositions. She assured me that one day I would understand why.
      My grandfather often said that she intended to tear away the last page of his life. He left her and started floundering through the side streets of women’s hair. Unhatched chickens laughed at him from inside their speckled eggshells.
      I was advised not to mention my parents either at school or at home. “You'll learn to forget,” my teacher comforted me. “You'll live a good life.”

Hunting in a Flagged Zone

For Gail Hazelton

When you kill wolves some people die. It is always the case. They bury the corpses together with the wolves.
      Years after they exhume them and re-bury them wrapped in flags. Each time they take the flags from the living.
      The latter squat and cry a lot, naked, shielding with both hands not what naked people usually shield but spots of wild greyish wolf skin on their breasts and withers.

In A Whale's Belly

The happiest years of Jonah’s life were the ones he spent in the belly of a whale. He didn’t have to strive towards anything, simply because there was nothing to strive towards. He didn’t even have to feed himself, as the whale’s stomach supplied Jonah’s organism with a perfect combination of nutrients and ideas. Of course, it was stuffy in there, and it smelt fishy, but in general Jonah found his situation quite bearable. In those times he loved to talk about the lengthy and mutually profitable coexistence of mind and matter, i.e. of a man and the outer world. Even so, he was aware of the fact that neither time nor the outer world exists in the belly of a statewide mammal.
      One day Jonah got an idea in his head: namely, that of freedom. He prayed unto the Lord his God for deliverance, and so the whale was instructed to spit him up on dry land, which proved to be a lot drier than he had expected.
      Before too long Jonah grew remorseful about getting out of the whale. He felt sorry for himself, and spoke to the other swallowed-and-disgorged, always moaning about not living a proper life. He even began to search for another whale interested in swallowing him up. However, the whales were not in any particular hurry to let him into their interiors; they drenched him with some of the water that had been processed inside them and waved him off with their massive fins.

Sex Toy Mistaken for an Angel

As the morning opened its folds to sun pillars, the islanders went scavenging among exiled chairs and floating doors—and she presented herself prettily, slightly sluttily, her lips seemingly ready to French-kiss the rose of Creation.
      They knew nothing about the adult paraphernalia but felt certain what the aspect of an angel should look like. Don’t we all?
      When they grabbed her, she unloosed a full-body hug and faltered. They found her as worshipable as the moth bird goddess or the webbed fingers of dawn.
      What was pulsating inside police pencils? Which invisible cauldron belched out a chill in such an Arctic manner? Positioned by a crack in the cell wall that bleeds yellow rains, the doll has since been staring into heaven through a gap in the thick crochet of clouds.
      And the islanders have reverted to revering the Unseeable.

British Lions

When lions began to speak English, animal-keepers were the only ones who could understand them. Others didn’t take the whole thing seriously: Wittgenstein famously said that if lions could talk, they would stop being lions. He didn’t clarify, however, if animal-keepers would remain human, should they understand lions’ roaring.
      On Sundays animal-keepers and lions sit up straight at the round table in the local inn and, scarcely exchanging remarks, divide between them a huge Union Jack cake.

The Worm of Doubt

In the spacious classroom of reason things learn to reveal their self-concepts and make themselves useful. While back-bench snakes eat their way forwards through the rows of unsuspecting frogs, the worm of doubt thins the convolutions of pliable brains and subsists on forbidden fruit from the school garden.
      In the meantime, the sky blossoms with interrogation marks and elusive smiles. The heavenly dictionary sheds weighty words, and they batter the garden. People disassemble them and build language barriers. Surrounded by walls and thorny hedges, things take the exam for the right to be called things.
      Soon the breeze wafts a whisper from inside: “Pity stands the test: pity is always pity. Love will have to take a re-examination.”
      The worm wriggles convulsed with the sense of having done his duty.

The Book of Meros

A papyrus recently found in the Desert of the Unthinkable stripped the profession of chronicler of all the covers of sense. At the very top of the scroll, a few words can be seen set down in very shaky handwriting: “The Book of Meros.” This is believed to be the title of the manuscript. Down the endless, glossy coils riders gallop, chariots whirl, swords clink, buildings collapse. No one sits there making sense of a past.
      The roll absorbs everything that has happened since the dawn of creation up to the movable “now.” With each passing day “The Book of Meros” gets longer, but the memory of generations gets shorter. The course of events will soon catch up with the flow of time, and then, possibly, overtake it. Maybe this means that we shall read in the mornings of what we are destined to do throughout the day – who knows? What we shall do after we find out what we are to do: that is the question.

A Promenade

Setting off for a walk into town, Professor Tausendteufel puts on his blind spectacles, takes his flowering walking stick and adjusts the angle of his body’s droop. The correct angle has to be forty-five degrees minus the current temperature of the air.
      The professor subsists on odours. Since professors and odours feel at home in the city, he enjoys the promenade and smells every sunflower and cow-dropping. He spends a considerable amount of time in front of pigsties. Not that he feasts his eyes on pigs, not at all, but he clearly enjoys their adoring looks.
      As soon as the squeaking of mill wheels reaches his ears, he directs his steps into the heart of the city. Watch him stand in the middle of the central square and sniff at the fresh azure of cornflowers; watch the man who resolves, by the mere fact that he exists, all the contradictions of our illogical world.

(Poems from The Two-Headed Man and the Paper Life by Anatoly Kudryavitsky, MadHat Press, USA, 2019)

Prose Poems translated from Russian by Carol Rumens

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