Urgent Translation: Quarantine Poems


secretly I walk to the park
to see
how the crooked apricot
has become a living cloud
of light aroma wind
secretly I walk to breathe
the blossoming of apple
of cherry slightly bitter
listen to the river’s current –
the ceaseless quarrel of bacteria
with the flow of springtime tropes
to speak freely with myself –
hereditary fear
to see, to breathe, to listen
to speak freely
in my way.

Only the dog walkers will survive

zhanna’s gonna crash
kurban’s gonna snap
anel’s got a bruise
that fits right under her mask

in the grocery a girl in a cap
asks them to keep their distance
a man in a threadbare mask
mutters meanly presses forward
a woman in a hijab
they step aside for
her toddler screaming sputtering
cashier girl in a protective shield
trembling slightly
counts the coins
every night she faintly senses
a ring and rustling past her door
like someone dropped their change
and is picking it up –
the pennies clink
the nickels clink
like they stumbled
and scattered their change –
sweeping it back into piles
relentlessly rustling
sighing past her door

zhanna’s gonna crash
kurban’s gonna snap
anel’s got a bruise
that fits right under her mask

zulya has not stepped outside
even once this month
several times every day
she sterilizes her hands
her shoes mobile phone credit cards
when the doorbell rings
she speaks all nerves
over the intercom with the courier
her groceries are packed up in plastic
the bag was disinfected
as it should be
the guy talks freely, used to this
can you just go over it again
with sanitizer
yeah no problem
but change your gloves please
yeah no problem
and leave my things by the door
no not that close
a little farther
i’ll transfer the money online

zhanna’s gonna crash
kurban’s gonna snap
anel’s got a bruise
that fits right under her mask

galima translates day and night
articles and
from russian to kazakh
to english to german
or vice versa
she edits these writings
nothing has changed
but there are more authors
and they pay an advance
then for hours they mess with your brain
she puts dialogues
with some of them
in the umpteenth volume
of her novel
that nobody
will ever read
about seven ways
the relationship develops
with the man of her dreams

zhanna’s gonna crash
kurban’s gonna snap
anel’s got a bruise
that fits right under her mask

dosan applies for his 42,500
for the fifth time
at dawn everyone’s sleeping
and e-gov is empty
as self-employed
an entrepreneur
working remotely
on insta they write
some people got their payments
it takes five times
he runs away early to the park
at twenty past eight
they hose the place down
at half past eight
a whistle disperses
the homeless
athletes and
health nuts
assorted freaks
from the yesentai banks
people straggle away
downtown uptown
along city arterials
hungrily inhaling
the mountains’ morning call
to their houses
apartments basements
and lairs
along the alleyways
and the parkways
envying the dogs
and their walkers

zhanna’s gonna crash
kurban’s gonna snap
anel’s got a bruise
that fits right under her mask


Oral Arukenova

Oral Arukenova is an author of poetry and prose as well as a literary critic and translator. She writes in Kazakh and Russian. She studied foreign languages in Kazakhstan and then business management in Hamburg, Germany. For fifteen years, she held management positions in sales for international companies and transational corporations. In 2015, she started to write fiction, and made a complete career transition. In 2018, Arukenova received her master’s degree in literature. Currently she is a research associate at the Auezov Institute for Literature and Art in Almaty, finishing her doctorate. Arukenova’s work has been published in online and paper journals and anthologies in Kazakhstan, Russia, and Germany. Her 2018 debut novel, Pravila neftyanki (Rules of the Oil Business) was named the Literary Debut of the Year by the independent literary contest Altyn Qalam.

Shelley Fairweather-Vega

Shelley Fairweather-Vega is a professional translator of Russian and Uzbek in Seattle, Washington. She translates poetry, fiction, screenplays, and non-creative work for authors and other clients around the world, with a special focus on the contemporary literature of Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan. Fairweather-Vega holds degrees in international relations and Russian, East European, and Central Asian Studies. As a translator, she is most interested in the intersection of culture and politics in modern history. More of her work in progress is at fairvega.com/translation.

Copyright (c) Oral Arukenova, 2020. English translation copyright (c) Shelley Fairweather-Vega, 2020.