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Elena Fanailova

Tr. Stephanie Sandler and Genya Turovskaya


I want to live like a snail, wrapped in gauze
To preserve this decrepit body,
Like a Christmas tree ornament
Nestled in a beaded glass case.
Life would stop bothering me,
Stop quivering in the tiers of fiery air.

I want to fall asleep in that soft velvet case,
Like some forgotten trinket from the theater,
A tiny bead or a lost glove.
I will talk to you at night,
Shining on the telephone of dreams.

I have grown cunning, quiet. I learned to love the silence,
And the thin-walled, fragile things I save in cigarette papers.

Pyromania, pyrotechnics, flash.
The fire that turns all things into ash.

Trans. Tr. by Stephanie Sandler
Previously published in Zoland 2 (2008).

... Again they’re off their Afghanistan,
And black roses in Grozny, the size of fists,
On the plaza, as they square
Their formations on their way to being pulverized.
When they go to get sworn in,
She flies it up to him,
Like a new-fangled Tristan and Isolde
(Special dispatch to all posts)
In Ashkhabad the hepatitis is in everyone.

He drinks magnesia from the common trough,
Making a racket with the metal chain
While she recites Our Father in the doctor’s office
She counts the days since the last menstruation.
The cure proceeds at its own pace,
And meanwhile he carouses like a boy
Bored and jerking away his days.

Corporal N., a bit older then the rest,
Is still a little wet behind the ears.
An expert in the vulgar furlough arts,
He pours black wine for them
And reads not from the authorized
Sections, but something along these lines:
The diseases of dirty hands are
Swallowed bullets made of shit.

Common myth and communal hell.
She’s off to the abortion clinic,
Exactly as the doctor has prescribed,
Like a soldier marching the familiar march,
According to the commander’s drill.
And there she is surrounded by her friends,
Slender and skittish fauns and dryads all ―
She’s deadly. A meat processing plant.
There’s no free will,
Only chance, happiness to simply stay alive.

And there in ‘Ghanistan were beer-soaked mustaches,
Uzbek girls, unscrewably beautiful,
Unbraiding bridles with their tongues.
They got to ride on armor metal,
Fast and crude.
Later, to keep the whole affair from leaking out,
The colonel himself shot them dead
In front of the regiment ― or more precisely,
Executed those who dragged
The girls into the bushes by their braids and raped them,
The Afghan girls who looked about sixteen,
But weren’t any older than twelve, and barely.
The rapists weren’t more than twenty.
Their families heard nothing of it.
And the ceiling bore down slowly
Like a chopper to the sound of women wailing.

Now they’re at the river getting soused
And reminiscing about the good old days.
And it’s as though a strange chill tugs
Against their corporeal flesh.
Now the lovers are both forty.
Or, more precisely, the husband and wife.
The kid is ten, they had him late by Soviet standards.
Their scars speak for themselves.

I’ll never find another country such as this.

Trans. Tr. by Genya Turovskaya


Through this radio jazz and cinder
Through this melancholy crackle
Fly, psyche, barely breathing
Toward the lamp turned to the corner

Toward the inhabitant of this place
With your tiny wings ablaze,
Trying to fold your fuzzy paws,
Fly dearest flake of ash.

Your friend will whistle some kind of music
In a European dream,
And in the frozen steppe your second
Blindly tunes in to the light.

The locals will say: He took to the bottle.
Nail his windows shut with a cross,
Stuff his ears and throat with wax, Odysseus,
Leaving only his eyes.

And you, dear soul, sing him a song,
As we cart him off to the bin.

Trans. Tr. by Genya Turovskaya


They stood near by, very close to me
They smelled of expensive cologne
They were tan — fresh from the tanning salon
Or from the beach.
They wore black suits, well-made, like Italians
They smiled politely
Quickly glancing from side to side
They spoke to each other succinctly: over there, in the car,
You stand there, block the way.
They took out
Long gleaming knives like in movies
From the 90s — Tarantino? Takeshi Kitano?
In short, they took out their knives
And said: If you don’t stay away from her
You’ll be sorry. And they smiled.
They crowded in.
I could smell the scent
Of their skin, their cologne, they obviously read
GQ, possibly Esquire,
Maybe sometime they’ll read one of my interviews. Maybe
They’ll say to one another: hey man, that’s the guy
That we whacked,
What a hoot, man.
Sounding like dubbed American movies.

My girls were upstairs.
I don’t remember why, but I said I’d leave first
And wait downstairs.
They were already there, waiting for me
In black Italian suits
They moved in the bright sun,
Like dancers in a ballet
Listen here, you’re going to stay away from her, got it?
I said: not in front of my daughter, let’s talk somewhere else.
And they said: We’ve got nothing more to say.
And left. Got in their cars and sped off.

My girls came downstairs.
We got in the car and drove away.

Later I told my wives about it,
The first, who was with me at the time,
And the second, who was the cause
Of this whole ballet.
But first I made it clear that I have no intention of leaving her.

Trans. Tr. by Genya Turovskaya

Lena, or The Poet and the People

There’s a clerk in the all-night store
Where I stop after work
To buy food and drinks
(I hate that word, drinks).
One time she said to me, “I saw you on TV
On the culture channel
I liked what you were saying.
Are you a poet? Let me read your book.
I’ll give it back, I promise.”
I say, “I don’t have a spare copy right now,
But when I get one,
I promise I’ll bring it to you.”

I wasn’t at all sure
She’d like the poems.
That actor’s urge to be liked
Is astonishing, whorish,
It disappeared
After Sasha d–d,
But now it secretly returned.

Eventually an extra copy of my book
The Russian Version turned up
A poet has to get involved
Distributing books, after all
Publishers don’t do much on this front.
I handed it over. Right there, as I was paying for the food and drinks.
(Kefir for in the morning, one gin and tonic, a second gin and tonic,
Plus a little vodka,
And farewell, cruel world,
To quote Lvovsky’s version
Of two Nizhnii Novgorod boys’ conversation.
No question, I remain a provincial teenager.)

It turned out that Lena and I were namesakes.
I hate that word, namesakes
And even more I hate the word connect
It arouses physiological spasms in me
Possibly because
The word has echoes of coitus and sex,
But I prefer pure fucking, pure and simple.
After all, I am my own highest judge.

“Could you autograph it,” she says.
To Elena, I write, from Elena.
I hand it over nervously.
For a few days she doesn’t look me in the eye.
Then one day there aren’t many other people,
She says, “So, I read your book.
I didn’t understand a word of it.
Too many names of people no one knows.
I had the feeling that you write
For a narrow circle. For friends. For an in-group.
Who are these people, who are they, Elena?
The ones you name?
I gave it to my girlfriends to read,
One of them knows a little bit about literature.
She felt the same way:
It’s for a narrow circle.”

I say, “Well, the part about St. Tikhon of Zadonsk,
You didn’t get that?”
She says, “No, I got the part about Tikhon.”
I say, “What about Seryozha the drunk, did you get that?”
She says, “No, I got that.”
I say, “And the essays, you didn’t get them?”
“I got the prose,” she says,
I even wanted to read more
About the people you were writing about.”

So I say, “Lena, believe me, I didn’t do it on purpose.
I don’t want it to be hard to figure out.
It just turns out that way.”
She looks at me sympathetically
And says, “Okay.”
I keep on justifying myself, “You know,
I write plenty of articles,
And if you understand the ones in the book,
Then you’d get the other ones too, right?”
She says, “Okay, I get it.
So, do you want two beers and menthol cigarettes?”
“Yes,” I say. “Lena,
I’m going to work on myself.
The balloon came back, a sign of wealth.
Look, that’s almost a rhyme.”

Why in the world do I care if she gets it?
Why am I trying to justify myself?
Why do I have this furtive sense of unease?
This forgotten
Wish that she like me?
Do I want to be beloved by the people,
Like Vodennikov (poet or pianist?),
Am I conducting a purely socio-cultural experiment
Like D. A. Prigov?
I already conducted one experiment
In his memory
At the election of a king of poets
At the Polytechnic Institute
(I read and anti-Putin ditty
At a festival sponsored by his Administration.
The pure wave of icy hatred
That rushed at me from the audience —
Students from provincial theater institutes --
Was more than I had felt in a lifetime.
Now that’s a useful experiment.)

I always used to say:
Never show your poems
To your children or relatives
To workers or peasants
You have to show factories and production plants,
To the poor – other people’s problems, to the rich as well
But I
Show the work of native speech
In a country of natural resources
I am not fucking anyone over,
Like that poetess, Johanna Pollyeva.

Obviously, this is an unthinkable claim
And an illegitimate assertion of power
My father was right to be angry
When he read in my adolescent diary:
I would not want to pretend
That I am the same as everyone else.
(“What, do you think you’reabove the rest?”
He asked me with a passion
That bordered on sado-masochism.)
I was fifteen
And depressed for the first time
My parents didn’t notice a thing
I wasn’t a complainer
And wasn’t used to asking for attention.

I don’t think I’m better

My claim is tougher than that
I think I’m different – male, female, other, the others
Like in the movie by that name
With Nicole Kidman in the lead

I don’t understand why
On New Year’s Eve
People run around looking for a tree
And for gifts
I don’t understand the dumb habit
Of waiting around
For the President’s speech on TV
Before the drinking and eating

I spent this New Year’s Eve
On a train
From Moscow to Voronezh
With Chinese workers
Their Year of the Rat begins in February
So they went to sleep at eleven
And I fell asleep with them
As opposed to my usual habit of
Staying up until four

I like to look into
Windows all lit up
Aquarium fish
Live there among the seaweed
This is all terribly interesting
But I do not understand how it works
Who thought up the idea
Of drinking champagne
At the Metropolitan Opera?
On the other side of the world
It could have been entirely otherwise

In short
I can’t pretend any longer
I walk home, thinking:
Who is she, this Lena,
A clerk in an all-night store
Heavy-set, fifty years old, with glasses
I love the word heavy-set
She is plump, not all flabby, tall
A solid, bleached blonde
She watches the Culture channel
When she’s not working around the clock
Coming out to smoke on the stoop
And joke with the security guard.
Who was she in that previous life?
An engineer? A librarian?
I have to remember to ask next time
If there’s aren’t too many people around

And of course, she’s right:
It’s a complicated text,
Even when it pretends to be simple,
Like now

2008 / Tr. by Stephanie Sandler


Stanislav Lvovsky (b. 1972) is a Moscow poet, translator and prose writer.

Nizyny Novgorod is a provincial Russian city, northeast of Moscow. During the Soviet era it was called Gorky.

“The balloon came back, a sign of wealth” comes from a song by popular bard Bulat Okudzhava (1924-1997). The original words are “The balloon came back, it’s blue,” changed here to produce a near rhyme.

Dmitry Vodennikov (b. 1968), is a Moscow poet, and author of a review of Fanailova’s poetry that referred to her as “a pianist.” (

D. A. Prigov (1940-2008) was a premier Moscow poet and performance artist, whose work extended to the visual arts and sculpture.

Johanna (Jakhan) Pollyeva is a staff member in the highest levels of the current Russian government. She worked closely with Vladimir Putin as a member of his cabinet. She is also widely known as a songwriter and performer of pop music.

The title of the poem “Lena, or The Poet and the People” references the Pushkin poem “The Poet and the Crowd” (1828) and the line: “After all, I am my own highest judge” comes from the Pushkin poem “From Pindermonte” (1836).

Elena Fanailova

Elena Fanailova

Elena Fanailova (b. 1962 Voronezh) has a medical degree from the Voronezh Medical Institute, and for six years worked as a doctor. Today she works as a journalist and correspondent for Svaboda News. She is the laureate of the Andrey Bely Prize (1999) and the Moskovsky  Schet Prize (2003). She has five books of poems, including Black Suites (2008). 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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