back toJacket2

This piece is about 8 printed pages long. It is copyright © Dmitri Prigov and Chris Mattison and Philip Metres and Jacket magazine 2008. See our [»»] Copyright notice. The Internet address of this page is

Russian movie poster, detail.

Back to the Russian poetry Contents list

Dmitri Prigov

Chris Mattison and Philip Metres

from Internal Reckonings


Our time of crisis within the political and ideological systems, as well as within the grand western humanistic tradition, is, perhaps, only the outermost symptomaticological stratum of the deeper collapse of our outdated anthropology. This crisis (like a crisis in any structure) is revealed in the divisive hierarchy of interrelated elements and the preponderance of reflexo-dramaturgical origins of the informato-instructional.
     Here are some real life examples:

My good leg
Having stuffed itself
In the morning
On curds
Whilst poorest me
Goes hungry
Healthful and full of youth
Goes out for a walk
Where the hell are you going
I can’t do a thing without you!  —
Where are you going?
Today’s youth gives a damn about nothing

Not wind wailing from the heights
Of the peak of Kremlin chimes
But like the will of a necromancer  —
My liver
I ask: Is it you
My sweet little one?  —
It is I!  — I never doubted it for a minute
It replies  — And embracing
It on the spot
With the two-headed eagle
Wretched! My deceiver!

Next, a drawn out evening conversation with the shinbone, which, it turns out, is the only one that understands and even feels compassion, but there’s really nothing it can do on its own

Then something basically cellular  — even on a molecular level


A senseless argument with the occipitalis about honor, dignity and all that is good and decent; especially as it appears before me in the guise of some oil-gas faction, in as much as it claims that it has much closer ties, and even an emotional attachment to its ancient proto-geologic relations.

Then the nerves  — well, they, you understand, grew completely independent long ago, even with pretensions that they are a consummately self-separate anthropomorphousness, and generally, such immense pretensions.

A break during a performance of trabecular bone  — air, quiet, music, the firmament’s luminescence

OK  — let’s pull it all together  —
Various Livers, heads, and teats
I appeal to them all:
— Let’s come together, brothers
We can make it at least till morning!  —
— Come on! Lets go! It’s time
There are things to do

Tr. Chris Mattison

from Incredible Events


We all huddle around the table with incredible events of life saving, healing, and so on  — Of countless miraculous sorcerers, shamans, yogis, and new-age healers who have turned the entire ruinous process of cause and effect on its head, who simply do not choose to believe in the banal and miserable natural course of events. But they remain, even though the incredible is, alas, much more frequent and convincing!

A completely random event — a child falls from the 14th floor and dies, does not survive, as one would rightly expect

And here’s an event no less strange — a man falls into a cage with a beast of prey and says a certain magic word, but against all expectations, is devoured to the bone

Or how, in spite of all comprehensible expectations, a man with amputated legs passed away without living to see prostheses, with which he ought to have learned to dance — everyone was quite distressed by this

Or a man, having fallen into the heart of battle, does not wait for everyone else, and perishes there in the most commonplace of ways, and does not return intact and unharmed, as is customary

And here’s something quite incredible — a man in a noose has the stool kicked out from under him, and he hangs lifelessly in the noose, and then does nothing else that one would quite naturally expect from him

Or, for example, a man is grabbed by the hair, plunged under water, held there without a breath for 20—25 minutes, is released, and everyone expects, with certainty, that he will appear living from the water; however, he slowly floats to the surface awkwardly, a clumsy corpse, by which everyone is deeply and most unpleasantly surprised

Tr. Chris Mattison

from Difficult Childhood or 20 Dreadful Tales


Anyone who has been through childhood is able to recall similar things. It is possible, of course, to begin explaining it in a Freudian manner; it is possible to understand everything in this way. It is that simple.

When I was young and played
violin amidst a great hall
a rat crept out from behind
and crawled up my pant leg
nibbling away at my trembling scrotum
until it had nibbled it completely away
and I played, played, played, and I played
in the midst of the enormous, dank

A merry old woman who lived near by
Dropped everything and stopped in to visit
Sitting and laughing, forgetting everything
Her lower dentures flapping and flapping
The two of us laughing faintly and idiotically
I look — every tooth in her mouth
And mine — bare! And
bleeding incessantly as well

I remember, laying in bed sick
And a whitish light running to me
Cuddling up in my legs like it was playing
Like a thousand gentle squeezes
With such fervor
Passed through me and disappeared into my sole
I grasped it by the hair — ah!
But it had no hair
Everything fled through my sole

I sat behind a desk with one girl
She grasped a half-crushed flower
And tenderly took my hand
I see — she has three hands
Then she touched my legs
I see — she has three legs
And she ran off with all of them
So lightly running through
But I didn’t budge, didn’t rise — and
The story

Tr. Chris Mattison

from Dialogues

Apotheosis of the Policeman

Forewarned Conversation No. 1

1st man: What is oputheozis?
2nd man: How can I explain it? It is a kind of award.
1st man: An award? Like an Order?
2nd man: No, not exactly like an Order.
1st man: Then like what? Maybe a medal?
2nd man: No, not exactly a medal either.
1st man: Not exactly?
2nd man: Not exactly.
1st man: Then what is it?
2nd man: Well, oputheozis — It’s a sort of commendation
1st man: A-a-ah. Understood.

Forewarned Conversation No. 2

Man: Comrade major, what is oputheozis?
Major: Not oputheozis, apotheosis.
Man: But what is it?
Major: How can I explain it to you so that you will understand? It is the honest and conscientious fulfillment of a duty, the execution of a service that results in you becoming an example to others.
Man: Do you have to wait long for it?
Major: As long as it takes. Under certain circumstances zeal may be reached after five or so years.
Man: And what then?
Major: Then it will last and bring people joy.

Forewarned Conversation No. 3

Man: Citizen author, what is apotheosis?
Author: How can I explain it most understandably? It is the highest point, in this particular instance — life.
Man: It’s what, a high rank?
Author: But with every high rank you can always reach a higher.
Man: So then it is the highest rank?
Author: But for every highest rank you can manage national exploits and glory.
Man: Well then what is it?
Author: It is victory in the face of future impossibility.
Man: It’s what? How can you guess what’s going to be impossible? Not until you’re dead.
Author: That is apotheosis. It is the victory of life in the light of looming death.

Tr. Chris Mattison

Seven New Stories about Stalin
One day, in his youth, Stalin and a friend walked by a butcher shop. Stalin grabbed a piece of meat and took off. They caught him and asked him, “did you steal it?” “No,” he answered, “he did it.” And his friend was torn to pieces.

Life had gotten completely awful for the people. Riots were breaking out. The tsar summoned Stalin and said: “line up the people on Senate Square.” Stalin brought the people there, and gendarmes were waiting. They began to fire, and killed everyone. Over a million.

One day Trotsky, Zinov’ev and Bukharin came to Stalin and said, “you’re not right. Let’s talk about it.” Stalin whipped out a pistol from his desk and killed them right on the spot. And he ordered that the corpses be buried quickly.

One day Stalin came to Lenin in Gorky. He saw that no one was around, and he cut Lenin’s throat. And he buried the corpse without being seen. He returned to Moscow and said: “Lenin is dead. He bequeathed everything to me.”

One day Stalin’s wife came to him and said, “why did you rob that poor woman of all her money? That’s no good.” Stalin whipped out his pistol and shot her on the spot. And he buried the corpse without being seen.

One day Nikita Sergeevich Krushchev came to Stalin and said, “you’re wrong. Let’s talk about it.” Stalin whipped out his pistol from his desk, but Krushchev shot first and killed Stalin. And he buried the corpse without being seen.

One day Stalin walked along the street. The people recognized him and said, “there he is, there’s Stalin.” Stalin began to run, and the people went after him. They caught him, tore him to pieces, burned him, and threw his ashes into the Moscow River.

Dmitri Prigov (1940–2007) was one of the most influential and productive poets of the Soviet generation. He is recognized as principal Conceptualist in Russian poety, and continues to have a great influence on young Russian poets. See his obituary in the New York Times, and Silliman’s Blog. An English edition of his poems, Fifty Drops of Blood, was published in 2003.

Copyright Notice: Please respect the fact that all material in Jacket magazine is copyright © Jacket magazine and the individual authors and copyright owners 1997–2010; it is made available here without charge for personal use only, and it may not be stored, displayed, published, reproduced, or used for any other purpose.