LONELINESS DRILLS HOLES EVEN IN THE WALL OF MADNESS1

—translated by Rebecca Bella Wangh and Katya Nanson

 

1

equate the bayonet to pen

and send off to Peru

 

a fighter brings Gospel

fit for non-combat

 

like a Colombian cartel

like a Molotov cocktail

 

crash through the fearful2

get over the border

 

where Vallejo Cesar

uncovered sesame 

 

and on the stone thus

up rose threedy-nine villages

 

he went down in a mineshaft

went off on a bender

 

2

 

Osip raspy

Arkhip husky3


Russian Hebrew

burns like strong brew

 

at the window a little bird

sings they’ve all gone to war

 

and this Yosif4 of ours

asks for thicker soup

 

guards and thieves

hail to him

 

for ochre and bronze 

don’t suffer death

 

off flies the black herald5

a dig at his plot

 

3

 

equate the bayonet to pen

no spewing caviar

 

from the wide shalwar

Bolivar carries double6

 

and like slanting rain

walks with sickle friend and chief

 

2007

 

 

1 Chapter title in Alfred Doblin's Berlin Alexanderplatz (1929). Note from the poet: "The general pattern of the poem is folk ritual (lamentation) poetry which sounds, from our modern point of view, a bit absurd because its subject matter holds together only by very formal acoustic effects (rhyme, sound, and other structural parallelism). This formal principle—also the principle of the tongue twister or proverb—I take to extremes, adding intertextuality and contamination to it.

2 Based on a section in Mayakovsky's 150,000,000: "Bullets thicker! / Through the fearful! / Run through the thick of it / Crash, a pistol!"

3 From a Russian tongue twister. "Osip" suggests Osip Mandelstam.

4 Ambiguous reference to both Osip Mandelstam (born Yosif) and Joseph (Yosif) Stalin.

5 A reference to Cesar Vallejo's first book Los Heraldos Negros (1918).

6 Contradicting "Bolivar cannot carry double" in O'Henry's short story "The Roads We Take." In the story, Bolivar is a horse; here it is also a reference to Simôn Bolivar.

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