Three Variants of the Same Text


Endless grief when everybody pities everyone
because no one then is able to help anyone,
strangers, no matter whom they meet in the street
offer their help, going out of their way exceedingly,
forgetting themselves and their children, and why should we worry,
let them run around naked, they’ll grow up even without our help,
that’s the way things are in this world, that children grow
and there is nowhere to go, no direction particularly,
only for a breath of fresh air, to ogle, stumble about, disperse the misery.
That’s how they think among us, oh misery, how could others understand,
they’ve hardly had any war experience,
in comparison to our losses.

They cite statistics, as if to say, see how we suffer better
than anybody, how we know to die together dutifully, it costs
nothing to butcher us by the millions, like dumb cattle, kill us
collectively to your heart’s content or separately, even then not a
pipsqueak, and from whomever an utter him also, the difference,
essentially, we explain to each other contritely, is minimal, if we
reason philosophically, it is from ourselves that we suffer so
spiritually, which causes us, in the depths of our souls
heatedly and whole-heartedly to commiserate.
We can be as a class exterminated or in sections,
all in a row without selection massacred, en masse,
as to our torturers most convenient, poor and affluent,
by ethnic groupings, the highly educated,
the illiterate entirely, in town and in country, pedestrian
and equestrian, soldiers and sailors, those of lineage
and of low birth also, according to profession; just have a look,
we’ll show you, our brothers’ graves are wholesale,
run into hundreds of thousands, annihilated in purges and in conflicts,
invalids and their family members, we are such great victims
we deserve an A+ easily, excellent students
on our best behavior, by ourselves we pile onto mountains of corpses
streaming with blood, it isn’t necessary to persuade us,
say and it’s done, without a thought to command contrary,
and that it not be repeated we instruct our children
accordingly, that they follow their elders unquestioningly,
we can get by on our own power, entirely without enemies,
and if these become necessary we can create them internally—
so that we can spit in our hands and deal ourselves
one great big blow, and end it heroically.


We’re volunteerists, all of us, lay our lives down for a friend,
because he didn’t become someone, didn’t strike it rich,
like everyone a failure, neither success nor achievement,
his talent went unrewarded, or if rewarded
then he didn’t make any use of it, didn’t even think to,
like he really ought to hustle, climb the ladder, connections
cultivate, nothing would come of it anyway, better he
lounge on a couch with a book, lie up on the curb
or in the sewer bed down, we would pity him, buy him a drink,
and if anyone criticizes, writes a book about us,
builds a brick factory, opens a counter at a kiosk,
plants a garden-hothouse-vegetables, we wouldn’t stand for it,
that he got ahead of us, this isn’t modest or comradely,
be with your people, a commoner, don’t spoil our fabulous
heroic epic way of living, don’t strain our good will with your
bustling, we’re above cupidity, spiritual nutrients alone suffice
for us, the day will come—there’ll be food, above our heads a roof,
good people will serve us from morning on, and perhaps a reactor
will gargle its throat by accident.


We’ll give to charity and tinker with our friend on his car,
all for free, he gives us a ride to work anyway and home
from work regularly, so we aren’t stampeded during
transport, our friend expresses his sympathy, he’s a good
person, we’re all good people, women especially,
these strivings lead directly to heartache, of pithy they’re capable,
won’t cross you either, won’t walk all over you,
this isn’t abroad, you’d get time for that, the poet remarked
about us, our intelligence…special people we,
it isn’t among us as among others—we’re not deluded,
you can squeeze us all you want, we’ll keep quiet,
won’t blame you, who’s blameworthy, it’s all different here.
All that is bad among us good people comes from outsiders,
it won’t stick to us, our souls it won’t penetrate:
not ours this criminality, it was imported; they rape
their women, the under-aged all the merrier, and engage
in homosexuality. Just look at us, we are normal people,
all of this is strange to us, unheard of and alien.
And among strangers, these are also aberrant, also came
to them from foreigners, from other places,
from afar these infections roam the world, sloshing from
place to place, the world is round, even if you’re vigilant
what’s harmful will penetrate, what isn’t natural to all
the world’s inhabitants. We have enough to make an example of,
exhibit with animosity, so that they don’t flock to us,
that these don’t become habitual, that everyone sees what would
happen to them if they don’t cooperate,
don’t have a drink and a bite to chase it with.

(April, 1993)


Marina Temkina

Marina Temkina was born in Leningrad in 1948 and emigrated to New York City in 1978. She has published four books of poetry in Russian: Chasti chast' (A Part of A Part), V obratnom napravlenii (In Reverse), Kalancha (Watchtower), and Canto Immigranto.  Temkina's first book in English, WHAT DO YOU WANT? (just out from Ugly Duckling Presse) consists of several texts made for installations or as part of handmade artist's books, and two poems translated from Russian (by Vladislav Davidzon and Alexander Stessin) accompanied by installation images and original drawings by the author.  Many of her other poems have been translated by Alfred Corn.  She is a past recipient of an NEA grant and a Charles H. Revson Fellowship on the Future of New York at Columbia University.

Alex Cigale

Alex Cigale's poems recently appeared in The Cafe Review, Colorado Review, Global City Review, Green Mountains Review, The North American Review, Drunken Boat, Hanging Loose, McSweeney's, and Zoland Poetry, and are forthcoming in Eleven Eleven, Gargoyle, H_ngm_n, Many Mountains Moving, Redactions, St. Petersburg Review, Tar River Poetry, and 32 Poems. His translations from the Russian can be found in Crossing Centuries: The New Generation in Russian Poetry, and in The Manhattan Review, The St. Ann's Review, and Yellow Medicine Review.

три варианта того же текста (Three Variants of the Same Text).  Copyright (c) Marina Temkina, 1995.  English translation copyright (c) Alex Cigale, 2009.