Poetry by Dmitry Kuzmin


* * *

Of the four of them, really just two are playing;
the other two simply sidestep them,
slowly walking catty-corner across
the enormous rectangular square
in front of an enormous rectangular church,
but the first ones keep on running in circles,
gathering heaping handfuls
of fresh, sifting snow,
taking aim at each other
and, especially often, at the third one—
a little older, in a long coat, not a jacket,
the stubble barely apparent on his jaws—
letting the snowy powder that wasn’t put to use
after all sift back down to earth
and gathering up new handfuls as they slip,
catching their balance in capricious poses
to match the strange sculptures along the lateral façade,
shouting with excitement to each other in Lithuanian,
the third simply smiling and ducking his head—
finally the fourth one’s fed up with it,
he shoots like a bullet
up a couple dozen steps
to a bell tower standing off by itself,
taking the violin case off his back on the run,
leans it against the wall, so it doesn’t get in the way,
scoops a dollop of snow off the balustrade,
packs a snowball and lands it right between the shoulder blades
of the smallest, the one in the navy-blue parka.
The third laughs, appeased,
and says, in accented Russian, “Got him.”


* * *

A little pistachio ice cream
for the one you can’t save from war.


* * *

*******L. F.

In Smolensk the train compartment filled up,
I had to go back to my assigned seat,
and heave the huge, half-empty suitcase
from the aisle up to the overhead shelf,
hoping the train wouldn’t sway too much.
Everyone is talking endlessly on their phones.
The most blaring, gold-toothed voice,
the one arbitrarily mixing Russian words with
some kind of Turkish ones,
finally leaves, revealing itself to be a young,
chiseled brunette in heavy furs.
Only one, the one beautiful boy
in my field of vision, with an ineffably
Barcelonian style–so then, now
I’m mentally calling a guy
with a beard and moustache “boy”; this is less
their new fashion than
my new age–rides in silence,
although he occasionally steps out to charge his phone
at the electric razor outlet by the crapper.
I’ve fallen asleep, behind me I hear
kids talking about school, repeating
the words “syllabotonic verse,” then
the train stops as it’s coming into Moscow,
the passengers pour out onto the tracks, gather
in clusters, guess whether it’ll even get moving again,
not anytime soon, evidently, judging by the fact that
Carson the butler’s starting to distribute
paper plates with triangles of pizza.
I had a big breakfast in Minsk, although that was a while ago.
We didn’t actually need anything sweet to go with our tea,
and neither of us was there for the second pastry
anyway—rather, the third one, to split—
had to leave it in the fridge,
maybe the maid will want it.
And that ability to kiss goodbye
just before the train or bus leaves
and then walk away, without looking back—
it gets me every time, I would
definitely look back. Now he’s returned,
again, with his phone charged,
the boy from Barcelona, and he’s sitting differently,
I see the concentrated expression on his face
and his big hands, his gadget cradled in them,
his quick, gentle thumbs
touching the face of the screen.


* * *

The most beautiful boy
in the Holland youth orchestra
was in the percussion section.
For Mahler’s Fourth Symphony
he got the cymbals,
and for a local composer’s overture
he got the bass drum.
The drum cracked,
and in the interval
the shy, plump-lipped first oboe
wonderingly stroked his finger
along the crack.


* * *

The longest day was the fifteenth of April.
I woke up at five am in Newcastle,
regretfully pulled my hand out from under Aaron’s cheek—
somehow in sleep he’d kept his Elvis pompadour intact—
can’t tousle that hair, I had to wake him up with a kiss on the ear,
Sorry, sweetheart, ‘twas wonderful, but our time is over,
you can go back to bed on campus, it’s Easter break, you’ve got all day,
I have nothing to gather up, I need only flick a parting fillip
to that funny upturned Malaysian nose,
smile into those childlike round brown eyes,
unprotected, as they were yesterday, by smoky patterned contacts,
and–farewell, Jury’s Inn, we’ve each got our own taxis,
they drive side-by-side, then split after the Tyne bridge.

At ten I woke up again in the Brussels airport,
I had an hour to nap between flights, but you
called forty minutes into it as you were leaving for work,
Hey, junior, your ticket’s on the shelf under the Chinese rabbit,
and—of course—the don’t be late, the make sure you get something to eat,
you, the first and last person to call me junior,
even though those four years of difference mean nothing at all by now,
and that leaves just enough time to look for presents in the Duty Free,
except there’s nothing in there but random junk, maybe just these chocolate bunnies,
but they’re useless, I don’t see how anyone can eat them.

The motherland welcomed me with spring snow blowing listlessly along the landing strip,
a rusted-out jitney bus, the incorrigible slop at the metro entrance,
and in reply I dug out a pirate frock coat trimmed in red velvet,
bought at the Camden flea market, and put it on—
Proletarians, steer clear: a Greenaway film is playing here—however,
there’s another quote, too, about how one does want a hint of color,
from the touching French comedy about old gays,
my fellow countrymen trying to stare me down,
wanting to give me a piece of their minds (they can’t spare it) . . .
nah, you won’t lay a hand on them, because afterwards, you wouldn’t be able to get *******them off your hands—
but at least the Moscow metro cars have high ceilings,
while in London you can barely get on the tube wearing three-inch platforms.

I made it home before dark, but you were both at work already anyway,
the windows didn’t meet me as I came around the corner–
ours are the only ones that glow blue and green at night–
the one-eyed doorman, forever having a smoke by the entrance,
was considerate (he’d seen me on TV) and opened the door for me,
the air in the vestibule was amber like bouillon; from the kitchen,
through the red blinds, the sun’s last gasp before dusk came streaming;
I walked through the apartment (amazed yet again, as always,
at the way you constructed the transitions from one color to another)
without removing my boots, given there was no one there to see, headed into the living room,
said hello to the black velvet rabbit from Madrid,
and the little enamel one from Aachen, and the green stuffed toy one from Sokolniki
I bought you in ’94 with my first paycheck,
and there it is, under the red rabbit from Peking on top of the subwoofer:
a cream-colored card, a ticket to see Miyavi at the Hot Spot!

The Hot Spot’s where I first laid eyes on Lerik, at a gothic party way back when;
he was little, sad, encircled by three fugly girls;
five years ago, Sanechka hooked me up with some roller skates,
in some back alleys somewhere out in the burbs, and I made it to the nearest wall—
Vasya got me hooked on Miyavi, but then he didn’t ask me to the concert,
he could’ve taken a girlfriend, but no, had to go all by himself,
and that’s where it all came together, in an accidental pun, on the spot,
precisely on that—on our—day.

Twenty years ago our eyes met
in Tretyakovskaya station, while we were still on the platform,
we stepped into the same car, stealing glances at each other until Shabolovskaya,
at Leninsky we left together, found out we had the same name,
two hours later we were sharing a bed,
six months later I introduced you to my mom and stepdad,
three years later we got our first place together,
five years later Michel, our first communal love, shyly called us at home,
and then there was so much that you can’t tell it all to the friends
and lovers you have now, half of whom
hadn’t even been born yet twenty years ago.

We never did manage to find each other on the barricades before the White House
and trailed back home separately, frozen stiff and wet through;
we barely managed to throw off a tail in dusty Kazan in ‘92
(it remains a mystery who could’ve been shadowing us, and why);
in Rheims we extricated ourselves with difficulty from the company of a businessman
who’d picked up two hitchhikers on a highway in Paris
and persuaded them to spend a week with him and go to Charleville,
the birthplace of Rimbaud (to the horror of his wife and daughter);
and then we made it all the way to the Atlantic by pony express
and rode bikes naked on the sandy dunes
and yes, it turned out to be long, and yes, such is time’s, alas,
sweet tooth, and yes, the Brodsky quotes cover my fear and embarrassment,
the same as when I try to say: I love you.

On the Hot Spot dance floor it was packed tighter than in the metro
twenty years ago, but finding each other was easier,
a mob of horny schoolgirls pressed us into each other,
Lerik was cutting loose next to us, affecting not to care,
you butted me unobtrusively in the velvet lapel of my frock coat
with your unobtrusively greying head, your hair curly from the metypred,
the slight Japanese boy on the stage showed his guitar no mercy,
the most beautiful wakashū-gata in this age of visual kei,
he bent, but didn’t break, a bold, blue-black UN-DO
sweeping collarbone to collarbone in the plunging neckline of his black t-shirt.

No, there’s nothing I ever wanted to undo,
but if I could go back, it’d just be to live it again,
Ctrl+Z, Ctrl+Y, if that shit with Ctrl+S—as Faust found out—isn’t going to fly,
but just one life per person is outrageous,
same as that book, the just one book that you have to take to a desert island,
but I have a big library, I built it best I could,
even while I was in Newcastle (sometimes you have to read fast),
but there are so many schoolgirls here, they are jumping so hard, sweating so sweet,
pressing together so tight, as midnight comes on, in the line for the door,
blocked by the bouncer giving access to the coat check in small doses,
that I know: time to shove off soon.

And we will take each other with us.


Dmitry Kuzmin

Scholar, editor, translator, and poet Dmitry Kuzmin (b. 1968) has translated poems from English, Ukrainian, and French into Russian, and his own poetry has been translated into over a dozen languages. His scholarship includes the textbook Poetry (Poeziya) (co-author, 2016) and a book-length study of one-line poems (2016). His two poetry collections are It’s Fine to Be Alive (Khorosho byt zhivym, 2008) and Blankets Not Stipulated (Kovdri ne peredbacheny, Ukraine, 2018). Kuzmin founded the Vavilon Union of Young Poets in 1989, and has been the head of poetry imprint ARGO-RISK Publishers since 1993. He is also editor-in-chief of the Vavilon internet project (www.vavilon.ru) and of the poetry quarterly Vozdukh (Air). Kuzmin has compiled several anthologies, most recently an anthology of present-day Russian LGBT writing in Spanish translation (2014). He has been awarded the Andrey Bely prize (2002), and It’s Fine to be Alive won the Moscow Reckoning award for best debut poetry collection. In 2014, Kuzmin emigrated from Russia to Latvia for political reasons and started Literature Without Borders, which fosters translation projects and provides residencies for poets and translators: www.literaturewithoutborders.lv/about. Kuzmin holds a PhD from Samara State Pedagogical University.

Anne O. Fisher and Georgina Barker

Anne O. Fisher’s recent translations are Ksenia Buksha’s avant-garde novel The Freedom Factory (2018) and, with her husband, poet Derek Mong, The Joyous Science: Selected Poems of Maxim Amelin (2018), winner of the Cliff Becker Book Prize in Translation. As a Senior Lecturer in the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee Translation and Interpreting Studies program, Fisher teaches remotely from her 114-year-old home in Indiana, which she shares with her family, dog, and many choice specimens of local wildlife.


Georgina Barker has translated poems by Elena Shvarts (Dryad Press, ed. Thomas Epstein, 2019) and Polina Barskova (Cardinal Points, 6, 2016; Classical Receptions Journal, 9, 2017). She holds a PhD in Russian Literature from the University of Edinburgh. As an IASH fellow at Edinburgh in 2018, she wrote and staged the historical verbatim play Princess Dashkova, the Woman Who Shook the World, which featured many of her own translations. As MHRA scholar at the University of Exeter in 2018-19, she wrote her book USSR Meets SPQR: Classical Antiquity in the Poetry of Elena Shvarts (Legenda). Her current research project, supported by a Leverhulme Early Career Fellowship at UCL, explores Russian receptions of classical “lesbians.” She has a red-lored amazon parrot (who, sadly, does not speak Russian).

Copyright (c) Dmitry Kuzmin. ****************************************************************************************************** “Of the four of them, really just two are playing,” “A little pistachio ice cream,” “In Smolensk the train compartment filled up,” and “The longest day was the fifteenth of April”: English translation copyright (c) Anne O. Fisher, 2019. *********************************************************************************** "The most beautiful boy": English translation copyright (c) Georgina Barker, 2019.