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Danila Davydov

Tr. Peter Golub


while the poet isn’t needed
o wait wait now he’s needed
they sit him down
tell him to make himself at home
and not to worry about a thing
they pour him a drink... another
and then say, “ok, now you’re free — go
immerse yourself in life’s mysteries.”


the crow and dead commissar fall asleep under the overcoat
some clouds are floating in the sky:
an Eser[1], an anarchist, a white officer
ghostly banners on the horizon
the river of time flows before the battlefront
washing away human events

whispers can be heard in the nominal revolver
murmur in the barrel a kind of peace in the holster
some great experience nods its head
dancing with room to spare on the bayonet
if their Virgil is Khlebnikov, footfall is to come
if Annensky, spleen and melancholy


the kids caught a demon
and brought it to the physics teacher
the physics teacher said, “why the devil
did you bring him here?”

you better take him to the biologist
a lot of people didn’t like her in the school
the physicist’s knees knocked, he wanted a cigarette
but that would be against school rules, besides, he was all out


the tender way of things or their cruel way
why torment others or yourself?
time steadily sends us all off
to that corner where all the unmarked globes go rolling

to one side sit those who are certain
that someday we will have our happy paradise
to the other side sit those who are convinced
doomsday is near

and you can’t call the former assholes or tell the others
to fuck off
we are not cruel, neither are they
but that doesn’t mean that any of us are kind or just or wise

you understand it’s only physics
wave your appendages if you’ve got strength to spare
and when by chance some find their place
let them get used to it
they too are on the list

how unkind and dumb it all may seem
so heartless, as if only action mattered
it says: well, now you’ve acted it is time
you say: now wait a minute!

there is some truth in this strange dream
there is a reason to exist despite the obvious
there is a flame inside the well and water in the flame
and when they answer: right, so what?
turn to the absent wall
and become nothing, and not nothing

A Short Epistle for Ulrike Meinhof

I don’t know why I am writing you
I don’t know much about you
I read your book and some other stuff here and there
I don’t know
it seems to me that your problem is analogous to mine
it seems to me that you weren’t really a “terrorist”
this word became a favorite of many
long after your death

I live in moscow and don’t know german
drink and when I do
it becomes impossible to think over the details
so here I am drinking
not wearing any pants
just sitting, drinking, staring at the tv

I’d rather you not see what they are showing
nothing decent is ever on
but it isn’t because the world has become worse
or that the television is a piece of shit
but simply
death takes its toll everywhere

I am a quiet person by nature, a loser really
I don’t like cruelty
but when they torture children, old men, dogs, cats
I also want to kill

I am a quiet guy from the intelligentsia
I strain to imagine how it is possible to hurt
but I know I could get into a brawl or kill someone
and this seems wrong

Ulrike! tell me that it’s all in the past
tell me that everything’s fine that I shouldn’t over dramatize
but you don’t say a word a word a word
because you are not here


the chiefs have colorful dreams
comfort and pleasure
tarantino david lynch
those with lesser ranks
get the new home shopping network
mussorgsky on MTV
communist coloring books
those who don’t pay up
will lose their gas and water
and the internet is stopped
and the windows boarded shut
condemnation notice hanging
on the doors, over the eyes
and mouth


I am categorically opposed
it’s like this thing, you know, like
well, not exactly
in our discussion
there are at least two things missing:
first: people are made rather differently
despite your precious ideals
second: about eight or nine years ago
I discussed a similar problem with doctor gibrayana
he held that: plasma and only plasma
well, and thirdly, also, since you mentioned it, although not for
the record:
who are you, and why have you come to us
with your fishy questions? we
were sitting in our cobwebbed corner
weren’t singing or dancing
just wrote bad poems about good things
we had no, I repeat we had no problems
we had no, I repeat we never spoke about such delicate matters
just sticks and candles
a cyborg brain with outdated software
electric sheep grazing in the window and so on
but no, you had to tag along, like a bull in a china shop
and now it seems the whole thing
needs to be taken to a vote

* * *

only a whisper before
a midnight animal begins to sing
she is spellbound
frozen at the window
behind which are five story tenements
and a horrid stray howls
in the seventeenth chapter
things aren’t looking good
the suet is on the fire

* * *

forget the one behind the wall
don’t speak about the noise that he makes
when you hear another’s weeping
be silent and do not wipe your eyes

they redden at the sight of pity
behind their wall they are content
without the snivelers and whiners
they have their liege a kind of thug

you understand your vices
are not the best of reasons to commune
with dishonorable strangers
but this has been allotted them

right here they are weeping and bustling
or maybe just bustle and weep
they’d like to puzzle you
and after call the executioner

they are the contra on the bus
but know the bus is nearly empty
the driver judges pro et contra
tossing the bones onto the floor

your ticket has expired long ago
and the control is creeping close
but he is even more wretched than you
will whisper the verdict in your ear

you understand the metaphor — forget it
you won’t have time to think it through
they weep and practice alchemy behind their wall
they bustle, weep, and begin anew

* * *

it is not interesting: a table and a chair
but such is all good poetry
the wind today... no... that was yesterday
the thing must happen with enthusiasm

his highness cool and rich goes out to take a walk
the priest nods his way, the soldier salutes
there is no higher exaltation
then the advent of this unwanted being

a branch bent behind the window
I’ll part with you although with reservation
when they come to dry their laundry
I’ll try to do something original

while china roars black men sing la di da
the world strives for the sublime
but those who do us in
are not the ones who made this pretzel

* * *

I know how to make fine words
for instance
first there is one then another
and now there are two i.e. it’s simple

but when they pour and fall and over
flow you lose control and then your temper
but it’s not all that bad my friend, by no means hell
it’s just that much of it is scrapped

and then a song appears
an even better one
if nothing else know nature
at least one concrete thing you’ll understand
that life cannot exist
but only snow or summer

with pulchritude and sin under their arms
along the boulevard they escort their decrepit men
do not write poems, I tell you, do not write poems
don’t write while walking on the boulevard

they lay about us
take pity on their watery eyes
their shaky voice


[1] The Esers were an early 20th century revolutionary group, which had more popularity than the Bolsheviks, but was disbanded by the Bolsheviks shortly after the 1917 Revolution.

Danila Davydov

Danila Davydov

Danila Davydov (b. 1977, Moscow) holds a graduate degree in philology from the Gorky Literature Institute. He was the editor of The Debut PoetryAnthology (200–006), and serves as a judge for the Debut Prize. He was an editor for the NLO anthology Nine Measurements (2004). He is the author of four books of poems, and was awarded the Debut Prize in 2000. An interview with him can be found at Foundation Pit, and translations of his poetry can be found in Contemporary Russian Poetry (Dalkey Archive 2008), Crossing Centuries (Talisman House 2000), Absinthe: New European Writing, Words Without Borders, and Zone: International Poetry and Prose.

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