Poetry by Benjamin Blazhennyi

As always, in a stately order of immortality

As always, in a stately order of immortality
Old men killed in the ghetto are trudging,
Innocent children are following in their stead—
Their short lives were cut like songs.

The old men ramble as a storm, a blizzard,
Suddenly awakened by thunder,
The veterans of a forgotten year wander,
The chosen of the first round of fire.

The kids would just sing and have fun,
Carelessly scaring grey old idols:
No sooner one silly bird is silenced,
Another inane bird starts to sing.

24 July 1994

Is a corpse afraid of the dead?

Is a corpse afraid of the dead?—
This I repeated many times
Blasphemously to my late dad.
Who can convince me that it’s otherwise?

Who would convince me that I
Remain in that stale round of life
Just because I am still alive,
Although the wind has plugged me out?…

I’ve been split into hundreds of bones
And was whirled in a crazy sphere,
And getting wild in their height the stars
Throw my bold skull like a ball there…

A Madhouse

…Then they gave me a torn gown
And put my name Aisenshtadt down,
And I looked like an inmate at once,
But that was who I was—a captive, a con.

Grated windows and locked doors,
Narrow beds and narrow minds…
A reserved ferocity of the doctors,
And the fury of ardent-eyed nurses.

Pushing us with their buckets and brooms,
Downcast outcasts apt for execution,
They poured on us the thunder
Of their primal female aversion.

There wasn’t enough room at the dinner table:
Some managed to squeeze in,
Others would eat standing like posts
Burning their hands with hot aluminum plates.

Everyone was extra and did not belong.
No, we weren’t starving, we were fed
With a frozen cabbage soup that
Seemed like a real royal dish.

“Are you full? Then go outside for a stroll…”
I followed others in a hurry for some reason.
—Oh, God how horrible is your expanse
Surrounded by a wired fence in a prison.

It is so nice to be in a madhouse

It is so nice to be in a madhouse:
An idle body is under someone’s control,
And one can play games with the soul,
And tempt her with thunder and space.

There are no people in the madhouse
Since those who roam in clowns’ gowns
And make wooden devils, don’t count:
Even their foreheads are funny—in patches, like clowns’.

There is such a freedom in the madhouse,
When one looks from the scaffold around—
The executioner’s ax will flash—and at once
One transcends above the clouds.

Day in and day out a game in the madhouse
Resumes on the threshold of a fiery hell,
Reckless games with fire go on,
And even the walls will remember them.

3 July 1995

I am only a soul, and one should be poor in spirit

I am only a soul, and one should be poor in spirit,
Looking back if that bony shadow follows behind,
The soul should spend her nights in a forsaken graveyard
Hanging on a cross like a thin cobweb of a kind…

I am only a soul, and a soul is only freedom,
The freedom that roams with a wanderer’s wand and a bag
Threatening heaven with her imperial scepter of a jester—
Why is that heaven following me like a dog?…

A Prayer for Cats and Dogs

A prayer for cats and dogs,
Little outcasts of being
That live in gutters and garbage dumps,
Homeless and stray, like me.

A prayer for these hungry sighs…
How many tears I have shed in life!
But beasts are silently displeased by God.
They don’t cry—just look into their angst.

They look and look so long, so long, so long
And see a giant tear,
As if it were real, big as the Volga River,
A tear of beasts swells, and they swim in it.

They swim and smell the taste of evil slime,
The whirlwind is getting steeper, wild—
Those subtle paws have suffered so much pain
That one would like to touch death with them.

To touch it like one touches knees,
Even perhaps to lick it secretly
In a somewhat hopeless frenzy
With their hot, rough tongues…

A tear of beasts is as great as the Volga River,
Death will be drowned in it and so will doom,
So there is no more death, no God is here:
There’s only a feline Lord and dogs’ God.

A feline God that plays around with grandeur
And touches with its little paws its doom—
A little skein of golden indifference
With entangled threads in the tomb.

A dog’s God lives in a garbage dump.
It is wretched, bold, and lame.
Yet the world is pardoned by beast’s suffering.
All is forgiven in garbage dumps. Amen.

1963

In every alley cat, in every stray dog

In every alley cat, in every stray dog
My homeless heart was beating,
I was so poor and so insane
And longed to regain my faith in this world.

But the cats were meowing and the dogs were whining…
They were beaten, beaten, beaten
For some leftovers, for bread crumbs,
And like them I was also beaten.

Then I learned what a human race was,
Where the dog was hidden:
One can even mercilessly kick Pasternak,
Like a dog—and ride him to death,

And put a loop on Marina’s neck*
A dog’s running knot, a tight timber hitch!
Let her forget her past glory, bitch!
And indifferently they’ll put her corpse on a bench…

The dogs are chased! The poets are chased!
So are the cats. The cats have lutes for bodies.
Beasts’ ravings are entangled under their fur,
And the strings of fear tremble at every touch.

_______________

* Great Russian poet Marina Tsvetaeva (1892-1941) committed suicide in the town of Yelabuga, Tatar Republic. Driven to despair after the murder of her husband Sergei Efron (1893-1941) and the imprisonment of her daughter Ariadna (1912-1975), Tsvetaeva hanged herself.

That night I failed to call Pasternak

That night I failed to call Pasternak—
The wires were cut off in a dream.
But the dawn shared its secret with the dark—
And suddenly I heard a funeral toll.

In a forgetful persistence the vast expanse
Was tolling, and I was like a weeping bell:
A miraculous poet has ceased to be
And only parting was left to me.

The language of my fellow citizen

The language of my fellow citizen consists of words
In which each syllable is fraught with treason,
And evil is concealed in each word
Like a bitten apple hides a worm.

*          *          *

What can I tell you before parting—
A crazy old man, a freak, a passerby?
Caress the dogs with my hands,
Look at cats through my eye.

*          *          *

Listening to an unbearable rubble ahead,
Here I stand preparing for death…
Thus a birch tree clutching the wind
Pulls itself off from the earth.

Bios

Benjamin Blazhennyi

Benjamin Aisenshtadt (1921-1999) chose the pen name Benjamin Blazhennyi, “Benjamin the Blessed.” In Russian the word blazhennyi can mean a freak, a jester, or a saint. The Soviet authorities treated the poet as a fool, a freak, an utterly unpractical person. Needless to say, none of Aizenshtadt’s poems was published until late 1980s. After the war, the poet was not allowed to finish his education because he was not a member of the Communist Party. Moreover, for his anti-social behavior he was from time to time put in a mental institution. Otherwise he worked in a facility for the disabled and took care of his wife, a disabled veteran of WWII. For the last 20 years of his life, he barely left his apartment in Minsk, Belarus. Beginning in the late 1980s, his poems started to appear in periodicals and immediately startled the critics who did not know how to classify them: Blazhennyi did not fit into any school or trend. It was well after the time of so-called perestroika when poets, critics, and publishers frequented his tiny apartment, taking interviews and asking for poems. This activity led to his books being published in Belarus, Russia, and Israel under the pen-name of Benjamin Blazhennyi (the Blessed).

Ian Probstein

Ian Probstein is assistant professor of English at Touro College, New York, a bilingual English-Russian poet, and a translator of poetry. He has published eight books of poetry in Russian, one in English, and more than a dozen books of translation; compiled and/or edited more than 20 books and anthologies of poetry in translation; in all, has around 300 publications in several languages (translated poetry from English, Spanish, Italian, and Polish into Russian and from Russian into English). He compiled, edited, and contributed translations to a bilingual English-Russian edition of the Complete Poems and Selected Cantos of Ezra Pound (St. Petersburg: Vladimir Dahl, 2003). Mr. Probstein is the editor, one of the major translators, and the author of introduction and commentary for the Russian edition of Collected Poems of T.S. Eliot, published in Moscow (AST, 2013). Recently he published Spiritual Soil, a book of essays on Russian Poetry (Moscow: Agraph, 2014), and Gordian Knot, a book of poetry (Milan: 2014).

Copyright (c) Benjamin Aisenshtadt, 1963-1995. English translation copyright (c) Ian Probstein, 2015.