Translations: Cris MATTISON

Translations: Cris MATTISON*

pounces onto a person
tears at the buttons and belt;
turns out the sleeves and pockets
rubs / plucks /cuts / squeezes
and then hoists onto a hanger
man hanged in the closet, forgotten,
someone nobody needed
struggling to breathe,
tearing out the pink


*  *  *
poetry grows from nothing
we take a hanging picture
facing a window,
or rather, the moment
shadows appear on the wall
of trees growing
beyond the window

the canvas remains untouched,
though the sketched river
flows and the shadows, in contrast,
come and go
(depending on the clouds)
and float, bit by bit,
upon the river

a wall is a fixed single
thing, but because
no one sees it
(and whats upon it) a poem
in motion / rest,
object / subject,
art and life
(not to mention the window)
remains un-


*  *  *

a thicket of aging lime trees,
nests like skulls in the limes
knock faintly overhead in the dark:
tomorrow therell be heavy snow,
as the carousel in the sky
splashes like schools of carp,
slumps to the floor, thundering hooves
I stand firm, winter soars within




Butcher stalls of Rubens.

Goya's beaten birds, feathers daubed in mud.

Bosch shrimp, Brueghel entrails―

seething, boiling in enormous vats.

El Greco's dried fish.

Dwarves scurry between the counters, buffoons.

"Pedro Ivanoviz Potemki" in a fur hat.

Shouts, the clatter of horses, clanging metal―

everything merging in the din of a single bazaar.

Rafael's rows of linen are the only calm―

wind playing with the sky-blue lengths.

And then another thump, gnashing, curses.

A severed ear bleeds out on the floor.

"Let's get it raised up!"―someone shouts in a hoarse voice.

A cross's silhouette slowly grows in the sky.

                Everyone stops.


The sound of a flame crackling in a cave

echoes over this infinite moment of silence.

The splashing of oars fording a river.

Hieronymous's incunabula rustling

and the rumble of spinning wheels.


. . . . . On the next day we woke early

and kissed in bed, not opening our eyes,

like bats. Two drawings,

two sketches on the canvas of Madrid.


A painting no one

will ever see.


* * *

a small man in glasses and a beard

unveils me in a foreign tongue,

beneath a moon, mute as a fish,

Im not sleeping, youre not asleep,

my heads abuzzsomething did

really happen to me, a bird sang from a branch,

turned into an owl, muttering softly

in its own language, then flew into the dark

through a thicket of alphabet

* * *

... a few words on ribbons of language

in a scrawling hand wrapped around

a tree hanging low in the darkness,

incomprehensible to the human mind

from a thousand invisible keys

interlaced in the dark between roots,

and a new alphabet deposits

a brook dodges, a tree burns

* * *

a damp flag on a great wall,

a flock of gulls darts through the sky:

Ive seen this before in a dream,

but now Im clearing away snow,

blizzard over bosphorus, and sea vessels

wail in the dark, like gypsies,

a golden bracelet from the sea floor,

stolen from a harbor side dive, jangles

somewhere in the silence among turbans

gone white from the snow as if praying

for souls that will never sleep

in this marble grove of etched tulips

* * *

when no more reasons remain,

I head out to a snowdrift on the evening avenue

where shop windows swim like naked fish

and milk sleeps in triangular packets,

in the beginning began, where black soil rings,

Ill begin with the greeks and work back to the varangians,

while a woman in a white robe plays reveille

on a piece of paper as gray as the sky

* * *

barbed winds at the bottom of the sea

strew torn paper bags, and somewhere

in the sky a tenant of hazy andromeda

turns on a tap, rain pattering over the dead sea,

salt rain in a desert of light, as if

the third testaments creator

is clicking a shutter, arrows

falling through storm clouds, never

reaching the cradles, melodious as

choristers, indistinguishable from the target

* * *

clouds hang low over Moscow

an iced-over swingletree clatters echoes

across the sodden dark

horsemen with nests in beards

ride up the road, blowing horns

eyes coated in a layer of bird

feathers an arm covered

in white eyes clouds, clouds

* * *

A quiet little village with a mournful puddle

in its square, where the tyrants monument stretches

his arms towards a better world but this better world

is no longer affordable,


in an ancient little town,

with the tolling of cans and plaster

rustling in the wind What are you, prima?

No, Dona Ana, widowed on the stage.


The deceased, fitted in boots, carried

down the street with feet pointing to paradise:

Listen, do you believe in omens? I believe,

but dont really understand them


A tri-colored half-belt splashes across the spire,

a creek weaves, enclosed in parens:

So, what did you think of our show? Youve already forgotten,

that we are you Its very short.


Three to the theatre, eight to the station.

Youll have time "I wont make it.

Later, wrapped up in a blanket, she

stares towards my cheek the entire night.


Clouds grow rose-colored in the window, like

a painting by Cezanne, there was a geranium

and, I think, two kittens, and in the evening

she played Dona Ana. But what did she say


to him in the doorway?

her telephone number? the time of day?

"Three to the theatre, eight to the station".

And whispered: Dont forget me.

* * *

To D.T.

Overgrown with poetry, like a second skin,

the first covering my face and hands;

all these things more similar to the rhymes of Blok

or even Fet, his fluid sounds


Overgrown, over time these things take root

as you push aside the dresser or blindsalready there are problems

prefixes and suffixes pour out, awash

in the soapy water of morphemes.


Overgrown with oneself, a maze of larders, rooms,

where the electric light is always on, endless

staircaseschannel embankmentsyou can wander

yourself the entire night and never find a toilet.

* * *

Call to me by the Nikitsky gates,

ask for an extra ticket, out of habit.

Do you remember, cherry compote at Fritters Caf?

and how they switched the plaques on homes?


                             Here stood Pelmeni where vodka

                             flowed through the veins of an actor, who


died, having won back his role as lead,

only to be buried in the Recurring Film

archives on Kalashny row,

forever drawing the blinds on his telescope.


                          My God, why are you so slow?

                          How long must you let me go?


Theres Fish, and inside Fish a pike on a nail,

theres a halibut, like a sheaf with keys to the temple,

where we were betrothed in the murky dark,

sleeping benches in striped pajamas.


                              An ascension candle burns.

                              The heart knocks under lining.


Last showing at the Recurring Film! Floorboards

creak in the empty theater.

But this film was only about us.

And this comedy wont be repeated.


* * *

a tree. Stands

in the courtyard, like a condemned

man against a brick wall.

Aged, wrinkled.


I name it: Tree.

It seemed dead, but with

an ear placed to it

I could hear every leaf

thats ever rustled through.

The tree has grown up into the wall

of where Im staying.

Strange dreams of mead and the sea

drift by and are forgotten.


While living there for a year I wrote:


              How strange on evenings for one

              to wander among classical facades,

              as if capsized in the dark,

              deafened by the damp snowfall


At dusk,

with the air grown heavy,

I pictured underground rivers.

An invisible rapping at the window,

as if specters had arisen.

How many times, my God!

wandering through a vacant apartment,

ascending Beast Bridge.

Cathedrals, towers, cupolas

lay like lairs at the bottom of the canal.

Ravaged. Vacant.

And for some reason I recalled that tree.

How is it doing against the wall?

A dream showstheres no one.

Slowly goes back.


                    After all, in essence, we are similar

                    we speak, but we cannot say anything.

                    Even the dreams we see are someone elses.

                    We wakeremembering nothing. 

And then I saw them.

Thimblesized, in red hockey helmets,

running along the roof

as bolts rumbled,

opening panes of the constellations.

No city, but a five-decked ship

ablazelifted upwards.


I saw mud clods slipping down,

falling in the direction of bedroom communities.

Mollusks, seaweed, fish glimmering in the sea,

plastered over roots,

its only a dark branch rapping at the window.


Its pattern,

fine as a scarab

descending the morning glass.

I dont recall a single word.

But since then, as soon as

the stars begin to creak,

it seems as if this language

is not irretrievably lost.

One day it will return

to be the clearest

of all languages

weve ever





*  *  *   

some half-forgotten tune

in an old bazaar and a broken heart,

white apples reeling in the sky

as a broom scrapes the length

of an unfamiliar neighborhood alley

where snowmen are balls of clay

I know it!theres an acorn back

behind the cabinet, linen baskets

next to sheets hanging overhead,

swaying one after the other



*  *  *
rumble black box rumble,

reel in the tape until

my fickle client

cuts power to the leads

while his diamond needle

crackles from on high

I wont shut the door

I like his game,

how slowly and hazily,

seamless and sans punctuation,

words pave the way to river

beds on highas life slipped by



*  *  *
someone onscreen removes an overcoat,

bandages from the face, beneath which

nothings visible to the eye, beyond reason,

becoming part of the windows landscape

Im similar to him, Im the same,

my million-sided void permeates

that which cannot bear this void

within melike waterthese pores and fissures,

their dryness filling in the darkness,

shifting beneath the skinbecoming me



*  *  *
a landscape within my window

thin as a printed sheet,

intricate and oddly compelling,

but that which seems outside

the window exists within me

sheets whitening in the garden,

pottage boiling on the fire,

which also is within thirty

three cottage windows

open to me

in the depths of the soul

in that garden, where

what was my era burns,

burns with a dry flame

(the cuckoo coo-coos)

and the landscape grows from

the flame, in which I am not



"Perhaps happiness is but a chance conjugation of ideas,

which permit us to think about only that which fills our hearts.

Who among us is able to dissect these moments, so brief in human

lives? As for me, I have never been able to figure them out".



......the car tore down the hill in idle,

towards the river and gangplank to the sky

and reeds extended into the water.

Abandoning the steering wheel, she looked at the sun:

trembling like a button on a thread.

She looked but couldnt find any cigarettes.

I asked: Was that the end of the story?

We returned everything that had been stolen.

And I, of course, thrashed him, but it was pointless.

In what sense? His father had decided

he would go to England for the summer,

then transfer him to another school.

Is that it?Thats it. The wheels

crunched over the gravel. Lets stop by the tent

And the button stiffened in the mirror.

Wed like some wine and cigarettes!



We wandered around inside

a sturdy English-style home.

The planked veranda hung

off the side like a fire cabin.

A tower with embrasures.

Not a homea modern day armored train.

And also a celebrated meadow! they floated

lazily downstream from the rapids

rising like waves along the river

and the sun set, rose colors

swelling over the horizon

and dark avenues.

I lifted my head, Powerful

and gloomy childrenI cited.

Seelightsshe nodded. An icon

lamp flickered faintly in the twilight.



I left, after we placed the boy in school

She lay in the grass and smoked.

Then I returned, only to leave him again.

Our son grew up sharing two homes. Where are we?

He was happily marriedan amazing rariety

among Russian poets. Built a home, spent time planting trees.

Dealt in wooden boards, but lost everything.

Wrote Twilight, his best book

and was happy, to all appearances.

Travelling, he died suddenly in Naples.

Never had time to really see the country.

and after I was left alone,

and so as not to go mad, I took my son with me to Italy.

Rome, Ravenna, Ferrara

after a month I returned a completely changed woman.



I went up to the house, peered in the windows.

In the middle of the room, on the parquet floor,

lay a gray grease-like stain. Some furniture could also be seen.

Screens; chandelier; fire extinguisher

standing like a sentry at the door.

I was ready to leave when a shadow

in the corner stirred.

Someones silhouette moved into the middle:

feet on an armchair, covered up with a robe.

Another crouched down between the windows,

turned on a transistor radio. A green blast of air signal.

They sat without light, and I thought I heard a voice.

But I was mistaken. They were silent.



Ive decided to take a swim. Hold these

she slipped her clothes into my arms.

Chemise, jeans, panties rolled up in a ball:

warm clothing with the scent of fresh bread,

dust and gasolin. I buried myself

in the clothes, slowly lifting my eyes.

She stood on the edge

of the gangplank and the warm peaty air

swarmed over her naked body:

slim legs, the curve of her ass.

She sat down, slid into the water, vanishing

beneath the rivers skin. The waters perfect!

gliding to the other bank a few moments later.

I watched in the dark and caught

sight of a milky glimmer beneath the surface.

Drawing the water aside, shed returned.



Darkened nipples, damp hair on her brow

twisted into an Arabic character. I embraced

her in the duckweed: thighs, stomach,

breasts, graceful shoulders.

She soaked my clothing, but her warmth

swelled through the waters chill,

spread like dark milk over my body.

And I closed my eyes.

One thousand dark avenues,

where lights blaze and then fade

in damp spruce folds,

rays of light dissolving in all directions.

And we stood on the damp gangplank

and the warm peaty air

drew our skin more taut, like bandages


and we were too afraid to move.






* Cris MATTISON  (b.1970) graduated with an MFA in Literary Translation from the University of Iowa and is currently managing editor of Zephyr Press, co-director of the series Adventures in Poetry and translation editor for the literary annual Zoland Poetry. His translations and original work have appeared in such journals as 6x6, Kenyon Review, The Poker, Modern Poetry in Translation, St. Petersburg Review, Two Lines, and Ars-Interpres. His books of translation include Dmitri Aleksandrovich Prigovs 50 Drops of Blood in an Absorbent Medium (Ugly Duckling Presse) and the forthcoming Eccentric Circles: Selected Prose of Venedikt Erofeev (Twisted Spoon Press).