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Julia Idlis

Tr. Peter Golub


You love a certain person.
And this person loves that other person
because everybody loves somebody but — God loves everybody.

— James Joyce, Ulysses

someone walks on the parquet
half a step ahead of me,
half animal, half shadow
(from the waist down)
not frightened by noise
unthreatened by what may come
scattering ears of corn around the fire
watching me attentively
scratching himself with a hoof between the crooked shadows
finishing my tea before I had a swallow
sees me off along the wall
an overseas miracle
cleans my cups with arsenic
the horse turns yak
horns and beard
and a tail from under the overcoat
my pale sweetie, he says,
here is an orach mignonette
ba-ba-ba da-da-da
enters through the auditory canal
an intracranial examination, taps at the temple,
grins from under the printer:
...totals the detriment...
Jesus loves me
from the top and slanted


Magdolin Manon — a french girl — died here.
she was a terrible whore, because no one loved her,
because she loved everyone, half-price;
she always told herself “we:”
“this,” she would say, “is us; and this,” she would say, “is not us.”

they say, that she once had a large vocabulary:
A small encyclopedia from “a” to “you”.
but then someone happened to her–lodged in her throat, it became hard to breath,
she coughed for an entire month after that, couldn’t sleep,
wouldn’t eat, only drank.

he would visit her at night,
everyone saw it, how she would kiss his prick,
“we,” she would say, “we”
later it became clear, that she said it in reference to herself,
but at the time no one understood anything–thought, maybe it was just a phase.
in the end she sat alone in a dark room,
would suddenly jump up, grab a needle, thread,
bite off a few lines from some old poem,
and sew it little hands and feet,
“we,” she would say, “we”
and take it into her hands, coughing and coughing...
but enough, I already said, what a terrible whore she was.


And there were no living, nor dead along the banks of the river, only the ancient fishermen growing stone-faced; each with his magic wand in an outstretched hand, watching the sun melt in the distance.

And each one silent and crude; below a mass of feathered fish, and each one wept, the hand closed tight, and said:

Old man, who looks upon us from the heavens, you handed us willow branches, ox sinews, you who disdains us, what will you do, when we stop living? Therefore, we hold two-ended sticks, and death is on each end; they crack and bend, the yokes are almost scale; by them we measure, whose death is heavier and closer to the earth–theirs or ours, and why does the son die daily, drowning on the cross in words of forgiveness in an astral emptiness.

He says: dad,dad, I was swimming well enough, but you took me into your hands, away from the river’s breast, and now I do not know who I am, take pity on me, have mercy, I am still two-thirds holy water.

The father replies: don’t thrash in my arms, I love you, won’t let anyone have you; you will have water salted with fine down, hot unction, a wood frying-pan. Those who hear me will be full of your spirit, with worn-out shoes, washed-out names; but you won’t remember a single one of them, because we all wear the same face, not one of us is without sin, and I with them. Since there is nothing to feed my children, except your flesh.

And there were no living, nor dead in the river, and the feathered fish beat on the golden hooks; the rods whined, bending, almost touching the water; the river stood naked, recognizing its plight. And only one, who saw, the vermillion sun melt away, and there, he dug himself into the soft silt and wet sand, heard a fin idlely beat the air, he lay down quietly, and thought about the cesarean river, watched, hiding in the empty rush, how the spring gives birth to water.


My pain was born eight years before me
In a small town near another small town;
I wonder how it got on without me, probably ran around bare foot,
grew big and strong?
who watched it, picked it up, out of pity let it climb into their bed,
so that it could warm up and begin talking-talking,
so that its trembling wet words could take shape of
warm bodies, bodies cool, foreign bodies?

my pain grew up, took me into its hands, and said: dance, dance,
I am inside you, right here, and put its palm under my heart,
my what a nice chest you have,
I say, this is where my happiness grows soon it will be time for it to leave
but in truth I don’t believe it, I cry, and try to hide,
mom, I say, my happiness is crying, it probably wants something to drink;
my pain closes its eyes, grows silent–probably wants to fall asleep
there is a straw breeze blowing through my heart, how am I to live
a city in the middle of a town?
come on, says my pain, you’ve visited your mother, it is time to see your father,
ask him what we should do, let him tell us, after all,
how can you live without your left breast or my right hand
in Town, this enormous city .


the old baron is dying.
hasn’t eaten a thing in three days,
doesn’t answer to his name,
stands at the window all day,
says that he is listening,
to the approaching winter.

someone needs to summon the baronet from the city.
I said, send a runner to the city:
the old baron is dying
he is leaving everything unattended:
the red hair resting just below the shoulders.
a wonderful pair of legs,
again, a thin waist, shapely breasts
a nearly ideal form,
a fantastic pair of eyes and long slim fingers,
this beauty cannot be allowed
to fall into someone else’s hands:
a traveling sales man,
the neighbor, who happened to offer the quill and will at the right time
a rat, who peeked from behind the armoire,
when the baron was about to hang himself.

the old baron is dying,
he says: after my birth
they placed me on the table,
and the entire night I thought,
that tables never ended,
because they have no end.
after my death
the only meaningful thing,
will be the testament;
this is why you must call the baronet from the city,
let him arrive after he has finished all his important affairs,
smelling of a hundred exhausted women
and tin soldiers from a child’s bathtub.

let him come, I say.
I will whisper to him a few words,
and then everything will grow quiet;
he will embrace this body
unexpectedly delicate, as if
sewn from the lightest ideas,
he will wrap me in blankets and think,
what is this, ultimately everything he has,
he has because everything is mortal,
which sometimes comes
like this, with quiet snowfall,
it is rather
some kind of new life, where this body
belongs entirely to him, with everything, that is inside,
what he never accounted for
and never hoped to receive.

in my youth it seemed
that the old baron would never, never...
now you begin to understand, that eternal things,
for instance God, memory, compassion,
are also perishable
and are fated to disintegrate
in each individual body.
and the sun as well.

the young baronet walks along the corridor,
touching the curtains, wiping a bit of dust off the portraits,
half the faces odious,
the other half unknown.
he is constantly speaking
with the echo made by his careful feet
and the air in the gallery;
here he is opening the door,
he walks into the room and sits at the window,
he speaks, lulling each word,
with his tongue,
putting his lips to the surrounding air,
intrigued, by how the flavors change
with his words.

the old baron has died inside me,
the baronet continues,
so that he may sit and listen,
how the winter passes,
on the inside of the century,
his eyes closed.


after you leave, the window overgrows with green
rustling drops on the warm, amalgamated, saline
the rustling of a shale on the useless, tired, hunched
the mire like a woman’s name in the mouth of a whale
the picture moves the whale swallows space
chewing the wires, stirring with his dark red tail
in the mix of something unheard small stars say hello,
I am in your dream in — remember, yes, the black velvet?
well, here you are, already stirring the warm velvet with the hand
the shoes crack over broken glass
you’ll be there — you won’t be late?


you say and you tell me let’s be together
let us say somewhere, take care of yourself
swim to the bank, you yell, turn
you have eyes on the back of your head, windows in your back.

I say I don’t need anything from you
I say there is nothing meaningful about you
just want to hold you if that’s possible
somewhere lets us say sometime soon
my heart is thawing my back has thawed.

he says he tells us but we don’t hear
amavi amo ave maria dolce
swim you are always in my palms my palms are everywhere
here, on your back around your heart,
nothing can be heard, no sound breaks through,
sleep well.

Julia Idlis

Julia Idlis

Julia Idlis (b. 1981, Moscow) holds a graduate degree in philology from Moscow State University. Her dissertation focused on the work of Harold Pinter. In 2004 she won the Debut Prize, in the category of criticism. She has two books, including Air Water (2005). English translations of her work can be found in Zone: International Poetry and Prose and Caketrain.

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