Ainsley Morse

Elegy


ISSUE 59 | TAXONOMY | DEC 2015

O, the granite quarry, so pure-blooded before dawn
in the hour I take my strolls along the riverbank,
when after their nighttime debauches come crawling
from the heavy depths – hand-painted coffers, the toads.

And clustered, stuffed to bursting, jeweled brooches
are their evergreen, edgy and slime-slick skins.
What masterpieces shuddered beneath their tongues?
Probably the augurs once implored their advices.

Their mirrored globes do fear the ringing crack,
and the radiant crown of the splash seems atomic,
but they love it when the water swirls in oars' wake,
when the shrubs wither in shallows' plummy stench.

The maidens knit, the married carry roe;
a deathly fray befalls, then hush prevails again.
Otherwise, like Dante's souls, they freeze in winter's ice,
or, like in Chekhov, spend the night in conversation.

                               Aleksei Parshchikov, 1996

 

 

Aleksei Parshchikov was born on the far east coast of Russia in 1954, grew up in Ukraine (then the Ukrainian SSR) and moved to Moscow for college, where he studied literature. He was associated with literary movements known variously as "metamorphism" and, more stickingly, "metarealism." Unusually, he was published as a Soviet poet but also accepted by the unofficial Soviet-era literary community, winning the prestigious Andrey Bely prize in 1986. The early 1990s found Parshchikov at grad school at Stanford, writing about Dmitri Prigov and hanging out with poets in San Francisco. He later settled with his family in Cologne, Germany, where he died in 2009. Parshchikov saw quite a few books published in his lifetime, including his own translations from languages including Yiddish and Japanese. His work has been translated into fifteen languages; his English translators include Michael Molnar, Eugene Ostashevsky, Michael Palmer and others.

Translator's note: This poem has been stuck in my head since the first of June, 2012. At some point in Russia June 1st was declared "Children's Protection Day" and I was celebrating it in style: first, I went with my friend Serezha and his daughter Anya to the bizarre Disneyland-like park of Tsaritsyno, where there was a kind of family-reunion-style gathering of a bunch of real dregs of society, the dear friends of Serezha's youth, many of whom had more of less sobered up and started having kids, but still didn't bathe much. We headed downtown to a poetry event: "Children reading the poems of their parents' friends," where four-year-old Anya was scheduled to perform. It was all pretty delightful, and then young Matvei Parshchikov took the stage. He was thickly bespectacled and tiny, smaller than Anya although he must have been six. In a ringing voice and with spellbinding confidence and volume, he recited "Elegy" so stunningly that I still can't shake it. Translating didn't help much, because the voice in my head is a high Russian soprano – but it was very satisfying. For all the usual losses (rhyme and meter), the richness of the imagery and sounds encouraged me to indulge in similar luxuries. Trying to translate with the vigorous abandon of the poet-translator.