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Russian movie poster, detail.

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Mara Malanova

Tr. Stephanie Sandler

It’s the Age Difference

In the early 1990s in St. Pete’s
A friend and I watched a video
Of his favorite action movie.
The hero was holding a Monitor lizard
And feeding him melted glass.
A band of bikers.
A helicopter flies into the window of some government building.
The bikers burst in with their weapons.
There’s a heart-rending shriek — “Rrrrrrock n’rrrroll!”
“Rock n’roll ...” intones the translator in a sad, small voice.
Then we watched an old Soviet film on TV.
A wartime romance.
He was a captain-major-general,
She was an orderly-nurse-doctor.
Something happens, and she thinks he is dead.
She takes his last name.
But he is alive and well.
He looks for her for many years,
Always under her maiden name.
Then he gets married.
She lives alone in some remote corner.
Finally they meet,
But it’s too late to change everything.
Films about the war are the nightmare of my childhood.
Fascists in helmets, riding motorcycles with their sleeves rolled up,
Letting their German shepherds loose on the partisans
And feverishly chasing after the chickens
Before they set the village on fire.
People my age dreamed about a third world war.
The second is plenty for me.
How can you watch this propaganda trash?!
I was shaking with anger.
But he was holding back tears.
You just don’t get it —
This is about love
Besides, why do they make such sad films ...
My friend is five years younger.
He lives in Germany.

The Dream

The husband of one of my colleagues
had a dream
he was walking across Red Square
when he was stopped by two armed men
who handcuffed him
and said:
we are required to shoot you,
but you can choose the day of execution yourself:
November seventh,
or May first.
My colleague’s husband thought for a moment
and said:
you know, it’s such an unfortunate coincidence
but on those days
I’m extremely busy at work.
What a pity
said the armed men, as
they removed the handcuffs.

At the Borderline

The world is made of borders and pitfalls,
Of ladies and gents, of young and old,
Of losses and gains,
Of rockets and trains, of boats and planes.

And each one in its soul is a border guard,
An expert at preparations for war.
He looks in his scope and accurately shoots,
He sets his traps, and falls right through.


Four workers wearing uniforms
with the words “Media Group Logos” on their backs
jay walked across the street.
Next to them was a couple:
a man with a furious look on his face, wearing a leather jacket,
and a woman with curly red hair down to her shoulders.
They go into the drugstore
where he buys bandaids.
She takes off a shoe and bandages her ankle.
You’re making yourself miserable, you fool, says the man wearily.
I buy something to kill the pain and go out onto the street,
where homeless children pass by,
and a dirty spaniel dog runs after them,
joyfully flapping his ears.


you live underwater
blissfully dreaming
in the belly of a whale
in the dream you don’t discover ninevah
but rather steppe grass in its many colors
a grasshopper chirps
and a bird of prey
spreads its powerful wings
and hovers over you
words surface from memory
the water washes them away


Radio Cage transmits 4’33” around the clock,
clouds curved outwards are hanging over the city,
you walk down the underground passageway and suddenly see
a geography teacher explaining to fifth graders
how to wash windows correctly, with the help of a newspaper and spit.
His hair is wet and slicked-down,
his body motions are jerky,
and he chokes out his speech.
It is rare that these not-quite-memories come alive.
They’ve been kept safe, God knows where,
from the moment they occurred,
and for that moment Radio Cage goes silent.


Once there was a poet whose printer broke
right when she needed to print a certain document.
There wasn’t time to fix it. Her only option was prayer.
She had no idea which saint could fix a printer,
so she prayed to the saint whose day it was.
The printer produced the needed document. And stopped working right away.
Her interest in this saint aroused, the poet did some research.
She learned that he was an innkeeper. He fixed wheels on his guests’ wagons, for free.
Then the repair man came and quickly got the printer working. He said,
the problem was minor: one of the little wheels inside was jammed.


It used to be that poems came from no particular impulse,
they were born out of that vaguely melodic cloud
that constantly surrounded me,
now events are needed to make a poem,
but nothing is happening,
which reminds me of the time when
a certain poet started to worry excitedly
that nothing seemed exciting anymore


Some people are seriously anxious about contemporary art.
They claim that this isn’t art at all,
it’s an utter outrage.
They claim that all contemporary artists —
except of course for their friend Vasya
who paints those wonderful watercolors —
are frauds,
and hacks
whose trickery goes back to the likes of
Malevich or Duchamp,
those infamous rogues,
those brilliant and shameless self-promoters.
Putting forth this argument,
they usually add
that they could perfectly well draw 150 black squares a day
or make a video of their mother-in-law’s ass,
but they are serious and busy people,
with no time to waste on such nonsense.
Indeed, they are serious busy people,
and they’re really upset.
Art, it turns out, really does owe them.

Note: the last line is a distorted citation from a popular Soviet comedy Pokrovsk Gates (1982), where the screen writer was in turn mocking Lenin’s slogan “Art belongs to the people.” Malanova’s line retains considerable ambiguity but perhaps less irony.

Mara Malanova

Mara Malanova

Mara Malanova (b. 1970 Ulan-Ude) has two books of poems, including Common Parlance (2006). She lives in Moscow.

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