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Zhenya Lavut

Tr. Matvei Yankelevich

* * *

In Kherson they called them “fish”, tenderly
So easily — like driftwood — did they float in the water
With soft palms in the place of heels
and mulberries staining their hands.
My scales stuck to painted planks
The grass gets caught in my gills..
There my two white cats died, along with
Several chickens, and the mutt in the yard,
Great grandparents,
Grandpa, grandma, my father and aunt —
All were born with a silver spoon
in warm autumns and mild winters,
but they must have forgotten, I guess,
to button up, though that may have not mattered.

* * *

Back where we grew up, where we strolled,
There were girls strolling too, but they were cuties
With voices high and low,
In dresses ending high above their panties.
But my parents, when together we strolled,
Never called them cuties to their faces.
They asked their names and spoke directly.
Thank you for that, mommy and daddy.

* * *

I would like to get to know myself only now,
to visit myself, find out how I’m doing
to be surprised that the sutures don’t come apart
after such operations
when I’ve practically got a river sewn up inside me
“how do you hold it in, I’d like to know?”

we’d keep silent over cups and saucers while the sky
fills out with purple like a haematoma
and the children squeal like birds; at the first drops
we’d run out for something forgotten
you hold the basket
and I’ll throw in the clothespins and laundry

that would have been so much better
we could have even written each other
guessing: how will she answer me this time
why don’t I hear from her, is she dead?



worn down pinky toes
peek out from under the straps of sandals
veins turning blue around the ankles

it is accepted: to pick flowers
on tough twine-like stalks
to place in one’s pocket a couple of pinecones
to be tossed out on the way back

before you have a chance to brush the crumbs off after lunch
it’s time for supper
it’s nice when you change the tablecloth
nothing gets stuck between it and the table
wouldn’t it be swell to do that same thing with the mind
wouldn’t it be swell to do that same thing with you and me

2. (imitating Frost)

When someone’s walking down the furrow
Walking faster than you in the snow
It’s quite clear that if he should turn
He’d be suddenly totally gone

And even if you should follow after
Your halloo would be like spitting in water
The way a mumbling baby speaks
Or snowflakes falling on the cheeks

Nearby a chorus of dogs breaks the silence
The sky, smooth as a big new fence
By the house of some newly rich broker,
Nearly touches my shoulder.


the Croat children are not asleep
it’s not at all quiet over the sea
what I’ve got here is a treasure or a heap
“mi iho” there, and “mi iho” here

one wants to keep vigil over them, silent
to stay up by the sound of shoulder’s pink peeling
to finish the book and the cigarette
such an utterly simple decision

the dawn will slap its rubber stamp
on these days, and add them to its case folder
where, like seagulls they shriek and flap
forever searching for their lost beach slippers


anything but going away to stomp the paths of other cities
or to see the hard times of travel-agency tours
or wind up confused at the wrong cafe, or overpay, or be left
at dusk without chaperones on the shores of a construction site

such were my fears until some flourish thundered
and as if a curtain thrown off and then they became
suddenly — follicles of grass and shards of puddles
in the spot-like beam of a street light’s aim


Let’s me and you, Lord, have a talk about months and days:
What’ve we got here with months and days.
Let’s, like, organize our planner, shall we?
Whatsoever can be handled easily later, let’s put off till then.
And the stuff that’s basically done–file away.
Only that which is impossible to bear, let’s not put off at all.
Better to suck it off sooner.
What am I on about, God?
Oh, just about all of it.


what can we use for curtains on our crooked terrace
what about for scraping mouse droppings out of the thimble
the woods on winter’s crown grows dark, thick as wool
tires blow out, you can’t get out without a spare

I’m looking now before I forget where they were —
the handful of keys once felt under a hill of gloves
something to press down on you, or else you’ll run

fingering the days as if they were beads on a string
won’t calm you down — breathing just gets harder
only the voice has more of someone else’s music

tear me out and throw me as far as you can, forget
that Morse code — it’s useless to keep tapping at it

I’ll just make sure to knock my heart like a wayward elbow
before I go, and choose which stuff not to return to you


they called us to go, so cleverly, as if a gift offered
we marched for years on end in dust to our elbows
a traveling monastery, spear-bearers and drummers
our undershirts stick to sun-warmed armor

drawn to foreign fortresses like pigeons to trash cans
we burn the poplar’s down so as not to notice our aging
we buy new hounds replacing the dead ones
we marry our prisoners, we observe the natives playing

Mary’s Grove — could have been Catholics that named it
like a chisel passing over Mary’s face, the rain and the wind
the smell of milk and fish fused in the folds of her skirt
while she carried the unexpected child

what one wouldn’t give to sleep in her bosom
where the heat has lifted and the dark is terrible
where one cannot hear the beat of the drum
but on Radio Street without pause Moscow drones on and on
telling us death is inevitable
between Lefortovo Embankment and Basmannaya

Trans. Matvei Yankelevich
Translation(s) originally commissioned by CEC Artslink on the occasion of the author’s visit to the US as a participant in their Open World program.

Zhenya Lavut

Zhenya Lavut

Evgeniya Lavut (b. 1972 Moscow) has a graduate degree in German Studies from Moscow State University. She has worked as a journalist, teacher, translator, and editor of the online journal Text Only. She has published two books of poems, including Afterpoems (2007). Her poetry appeared in An Anthology of Contemporary Russian Women Poets (University of Iowa Press 2005).

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