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Polina Barskova

Tr. Peter Golub

Hampshire Archive. Personalia

(This project was completed in collaboration with Frosya Crawford.)

I. Index

All that I do is shameless or absurd
Queen of Poverty, Imagination, Fate presents a chamber pot
Festooned in clinking silk
On her sleeve gapes Made in China
Her shoes are dust full of sand
For me she is a bit pathetic.
For me — she is extraordinary.

II. Anna’s Arrival

Kitagawa Utamaro. Tail of the eighteenth century.
Preferred to depict seashells rather than people.

On the occasion that he did include the child-fisherman-courtesan in his compositions,
He had them all gathering seashells
Excited, chilled by the wind, ruddy-faced.

Wandering along the surf’s sandy lines
Bring forth elongated round flat sharp resembling a seal’s ear.

An anxious blue spilt over this shell
And this one’s had its wing torn off —

A sensitive belle, who looks like an octopus, informs
Another holding a long sanguine shell in hand.
The latter tilts her head and laughs: poor thing
Our passion, a little shy to realize the metaphors squeezed by the shell

Your shell hot in the sand!

III. Nonna says, “In this kind of weather Afanasy Fet wrote:”

[ … ]

Sleepy since the evening
In the courtyard dim,
The dry leaves are falling,
Night, the wind is fuming
Beating window’s rim

[ … ]

Step out — accidentally
Heavy — on the heart
Look across — the pasture
Tumbleweed — the pasture
Like a ball, it jumps

IV. Aladdin

A pale can which once held milk
Contains the letter from Israel Lichtenstein,
Written in 1942, naturally.
Naturally, in the Warsaw ghetto
Two weeks before he was sent to Treblinka.

The Letter Reads:
I accept oblivion for myself and my family
My wife (whose name it is arbitrary to mention,
Let her from this point on be name-le-ss and face-less)
Is ready, to become a pearl of strung teeth,
A chestnut tress in a mattress, a shadow.

But we would very much like it,
If those who found this letter remembered our daughter — Margalit.
She turned twenty months today.
O, she is an extraordinary child!
How well, I tell you, she speaks

Speags speags speags
Gavalit Gavalit Gavalit

[Make a slight uproar]

I embrace oblivion
But I say to you:


V. The Sheep Whisperer

The professor of cognitive science,
handsome and gray haired,
smokes his pipe.

He listens to the sheep,
He walks only to where
Loquacious flock
Is moving in the dark.

Among the clover, bees, and golden leaves
Blissful as Adam before the gray sin,
He hears among the sheep a certain poetry
A certain mix of sound. Complaisant? Intransigent?

I say to him: What have you heard
Besides the bahhhh and mehhhhh?
And he responds,
Like in October, in the dark

Once he was still,
They stood beside him.

“I heard the muted peal
Of their hushed language,
It hung above the flock as if a cloud,
A sound and noise, a trace of crystal hooves.”

VI. Q and A with a Female Artist

Artist: Lately I’ve been working with the body, the absurd, dying, aging body.
Also, I’ve been interested in extra-normative relationships, especially incest.
This is why I included the photos of my father in the exhibition. Yes, here he is
entirely feeble: atherosclerosis, Alzheimer’s … drool running down his cheek. But
currently I am searching for new inspiration.
Q: Does nature inspire you?
Artist: Nature?
Q: Yes, you know it is very beautiful here during winter. The trees freeze and
on their branches form crystal figures, like little ice pinecones. And if you look
through them a blackness is seen. It might interest you!
Artist: Figures huh? Pinecones? Um, I don’t know … Maybe … Maybe, who

VII. The Names of Cities. Kara.

I got some warmth today
Like Snegurachka I floated about the earth
To the astonishment of the old woman and the old man

A tiny cloud, not in the least a Black Square,
I flew over the dreams of Massachusetts huts,
Where cars and leftovers live.

Over the scattering of empty towns:
Chikopee, Nichewaug, Agawam
The deadest of the languages that govern this place
Let taloned words be born into the world.

I flew above a dark patch of trees,
Standing over gray grass.
There the river gave out a disconsolate roar
A bit farther — a desperate cry.

What is your river called? Connecticut. Lies.
Its name — macerated in an emerald mob
In a flat foam, a dull tetter —
Like a prelestnitsa with a dead child.

What is your winter called?
It doesn’t have a name.

Polina Barskova

Polina Barskova

Polina Barskova (b. 1976, St. Petersburg) has published six books of poems, including TravelingMusicians (2008). She received a PhD in Russian Studies from UC Berkley, and currently teaches at Hampshire College, MA. She was an editor for the NLO anthology of Russian poetry Nine Measurements (2004). The long poem “New Hampshire Archive. Personalia” was published by Circumference in 2008, and her poetry was anthologized in Contemporary Russian Poetry (Dalkey Archive 2008) and An Anthology of Contemporary Russian Women Poets (University of Iowa Press 2005).

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