Translated by Tatyana Axelrod
Strange, trying to say something
When twenty-five percent of people
are stripped of seventy-five percent of words,
and replace with asterisks that, which is most important.
But words are the last remaining power
And I shall not give it up.
My mother lives on the border
Where bombs fall.
She had a heart attack
When I told her over the phone
that everything happening is a crime,
That silence equals complicity
That I've got a ticket to Central Asia
Because its not safe for me to stay here.
That same moment she fell on her kitchen floor.
She came round a few hours later,
Managed to call an ambulance.
She didn’t pick up the phone
for 2 days,
And when she finally did, she was weeping
And saying that I killed her,
She was begging a bomb to hit her,
She wrote (word for word):
"You are not hearing what I am saying,
For 15 years I've been trying to get through to you
And all these 15 years you've been pushing me away.
I have no heart or soul left-
Just one large wound.
I can't stop worrying about you.
I am scared, for you are stubbornly and obstinately leading yourself to the edge of the abyss.
Common sense has completely left you.
Throughout these 15 years you are going against sanity.
And I don't know how to save you.
What I do know for sure is that I am not going to participate in your self-destruction.
Think again: who is waiting for you in a different country with no money, no job and nowhere to live?
My heart can't handle this pain.
My heart is covered with scars
Do you realise that it's a one way ticket?
You can't run away from yourself.
And fear is not the best advisor.
I am unable to talk".
She said it, and immediately added
That this conversation thread must be deleted
As it's dangerous to keep it.
And it's best to delete WhatsApp completely.
I thought: "As if scars are safer than words"
They are easily hidden,
As if words are scarier
Than actual human death.
When the war began
I was begging mum to move to my place.
But she used to say:
"I am not gonna leave my home".
She said: “there are pros and cons in each situation
You need to always search for the pros.
I keep telling you for 10 years now
To master a job that brings money,
A job that's in high demand.
And the time has finally come”.
I said: “Praise the Lord
Anyone can become a plumber,
A soldier or a hooker".
She used to say: "Watch your attitude!
Plumber is a perfectly fine job for a man.
My Lord, as if it's the first time,
How many international conflicts have happened
How many times we've been scared?
But the West is never gonna break ties with Russia.
They are shaking their fists, but its part of the plan.
Its called geopolitics".
-Well maybe so, but now "before the war"
Does not mean before 1941, it's yesterday or the day before.
She might not realise what it means to lose your lifework.
But she knows exactly what it's like to flee due to the war.
She just pretends that she's forgotten how it was before.
I had many projects
within a month there were none,
Everything was clear to everyone.
A novel, that was almost nearly done
Was made redundant since the war began.
Russia can't bear to think of the future to come.
"Brother" is on TV-
You dislike this film only because I like it,
Because he is strong.
But I think that the re-release of nostalgic fascist "Brother" is bullshit
Also because it appeals to the poor and xenophobic,
To those, who never dreamed and hoped,
To those who weren't hurting when they were forced into exile.
Not to the educated class,
Which is now apparently the main victim within Russia.
A Hero of our time is not a poor workman, not a lumpen, not a cop from NTV,
Not a scholarship student holding a Diploma from a professional college-
A so called simple little man.
A hero is the one
Who, all his life, was creating the future,
And did everything he could to overcome
his inherited ostracism;
Who did everything not to be a cooled curdled blood
In a sick blackened flesh of a country.
But to become like that lady or gent at the Oscar
Who rightly thank their own hard work and baldness
They accept the gold statue,
Descent to the first row
To kiss their boyfriend or girlfriend
Bypassing crime, self-pity and nepotism, which are parts of the show.
Saying this, I thought of the soldiers
whose feet blew up on military IDs
just as they started walking.
I thought of someone important
who wished our heroes on TV
to soon get back on their feet.
That we are yet to see them,
We are yet to live with them,
To look away from them on the streets,
To say to ourselves something like " I didn't believe, didn't know, didn't dream, I am still little".
Continuing our slow walk
With the smallest steps on a slippery road of fear,
Snow-bound, as if covered with cottage cheese,
Feeling the slimy blackened cold flesh of a country
Under our feet.
Before the heart attack I used to tell her:
Mum, you fled from the Central Asia republic
From the homeland of all our ancestors,
You remember what the war and homelessness mean,
You remember that our country has never ever defended Russians.
To which her reply was: "Times have changed,
It's a different Russia today.
I thought "Mum, you have a Ph.D.
You used to be a liberal politician,
You taught me science, freedom and justice.
When did they wipe out your memory?
While I was thinking, she was saying something about geopolitics,
in which I do not understand a thing,-
She was saying that she feels sorry for people
She was saying it and weeping,
Rubbing her large breasts where the heart is,
And this internal unsurmountable contradiction was so clear to me-
That geopolitics is a generalisation technique
Separating from humane, personal and unique
Keeping the heart from breaking.
Then they got bombed.
Mum wrote: "The bangs are coming from the side of Ukraine.
It's so close, that I decided that the bombs are here.
We are being fired at,
Glares of fires and clouds of smoke are near.
I said to Sasha: Let's go chopping trees,
cut the apples,
If they're gonna smash us -if we're gonna be fucked
We didn't act like cowards.
On the third day after the heart attack
she wrote a casual breezy message.
She sent me stickers of dinosaurs with painted lips,
who were saying "ha-ha-ha" blowing kisses.
She was telling me about apple trees,
and everything became velvety peaceful.
Just like on Christmas day
in my childhood
Or maybe at Easter.
Staying in Russia meant my flight went to waste
And the trip to my mums was arranged with much haste.
A few days before the war I wrote about this place:
In the village silence means fear.
Silence is strangled at home by TV
By barking of dogs in the streets
By meaningless shouts across the road :
"Where are you going?"
-"I am going there"
-"Ok then, I am staying here".
Like mould in the old terrace
Again and again
Silence oozes through the painted walls
And everything becomes helpless and bare.
Just not long ago our drunk neighbour
Fell silent in a drift of snow,
After which Alabai clamped his jaws on his master's hair
and took his scalp off as a punishment for lying silent there.
This dog is about the size of a calf
Wondering along the outskirts of the village near the shop
Miserable and hungry,
Waiting for someone to fall silent,
And everybody remembers that in this country.
Doesn't matter to whom, but you must talk
To a snowdrift, an apple tree, a cat or a dog,
Sing old Soviet songs,
Speak, repeat, chant,
Folk in the village do nothing, but chat:
About food, grass, pensions, Putin, then food some more,
Sing old songs over and over till they're sore.
Year in and year out, round and round
Clearing streets of snow only to watch it pile in,
As moles eat the tulip bulbs underground,
To once again make the veranda green.
They keep cutting the grass in the field
So that it will grow again two feet tall,
They keep complaining: strawberries aren't sweet,
But plant the same seeds after all.
To mix them after with sugar and sour cream,
Give to the grandkids to spoil
and say that these are the strawberries of our dreams
because they've been planted in our soil.
unlike imported genetically modified organisms;
They prepare a lot of food yesterday
So that there is nothing to eat today,
They don't remember how they ended in up this way
And even if they do- they forget- they say.
They never manage to leave and find another way.
Their soil keeps them from moving away
Their grass keeps them from moving away
Their mould keeps them from moving away
Their snowdrifts keep them from moving away
Their strawberries keep them from moving away
Their songs keep them from moving away
Their pensions keep them from moving away...
The huge Alabai is guarding the way...
It may happen one day that someone might reach the line
And contemplate leaving this village behind....
He walks to the outskirts, hears the silence, looks at the Alabai,
And starts feeling defenceless and blind
And begins singing his old old lullaby
That our strawberries are the best kind,
That imported foods are poisoned and vile.
when on TV meanwhile
The psychics and Putin are driving the silence out rescuing us from having thoughts in our minds;
The song again turns everything round,
And we can't imagine leaving this grass behind
The silence is deadly, it plays tricks on your mind.
Now all this sounds absurd of course
as real death comes with a lot of noise,
All is absurd, except maybe Putin driving the silence out by force...
I wrote to my friend:
There are so many things flying above my mum's house-
fighter planes, helicopters-
that I just don't know what they're gonna do.
A fighter plane is really fast,
it crosses the sky swiftly, in a few seconds,
but the noise remains in the air for half a minute.
The helicopters are also flying above us all the time.
Apparently - patrolling the border territory.
-I don't know.
They are flying like fat mosquitos usually two by two,
Like police officers at the railway station,
And hearing them is not scary at all.
When I was there, nothing was bombed or I didn't hear.
But when they were bombing over there,
Mum said that the rocket wings were near.
A landfill is located outside our village
And though I didn’t see the explosions,
I saw curved "chemtrails" from the sky to the ground
As though many letters "Z" were combined into a garland.
Rocket lands somewhere, but the explosion can’t be heard.
That week we laughed with mum more than ever before,
I can't remember laughing so much since childhood
Because you never know what the future will hold-
The moles from the Endangered List have begun digging once more-
-We were joking while gardening,
That the moles are saboteurs digging tunnels in the direction of Ukraine
And that we need to capture them and bring them to the Hague
At the expense of the state.
-"I am collecting all the relevant evidence"-joked mum-
-On how you are oppressing me,
which I will send to Nuremberg.
-You haven't been to Germany before?
So would you like to come?
-That could be arranged easily.
And we were arguing who represses who more;
I don't know why, but we both found it very funny.
We cooked a lot of food that day
Beshbarmak, Qurutob, pilaf,
Coriander, cumin and lots of pepper-
just like in the good old days
when I was a child, I loved
When we used to lay dastarhan
with our post-colonial feast
and ate with our hands listening to the TV,
which was broadcasting another long colonial war.
-But this time we were just listening to the air stream.
I had to go to Moscow, even though
I didn't want to go there at all
I was watching groups of people walking with rifles
in the local train station-
How they were arresting random people
and taking them to the unknown location.
I was on the train with the group of soldiers
who were returning from somewhere I wasn't aware.
They were unshaven with overgrown hair, but joyous.
I was watching a poorly old man
who was pulling an empty old bag on his skinny shoulder
with the word "Russia" written all over it.
I was also reading that Moscow Patriarchate
announced a death of one priest-
not far from the city, who was hit
by a missile.
I was thinking of mum...
When I felt really down, I would switch VPN on,
And look at Michael and Robin on Instagram
They are from Atlanta,
I was looking at the normal, happy people, completely unknown
Who live as a family.
Michael on the photos looks like my dad,
whom I don't know.
I wrote then: my dad lives in Atlanta,
His name is Michael, he's got blue eyes and black hair
and he is engaged to a ginger guy called Robin.
And his Instagram profile says: "I am not the dad you have, but I am the dad you always wanted."
And he really does look like my dad, had he lived in Atlanta and didn’t drink,
and didn’t try to stab mum
or jump out of the window.
You are a southerner, just like me-
-and that is basically it.
I hope you are not walking in the dark alone,
That you are not hitting anyone, not fighting,
that you always always come back home
to listen to Aguzarova, to Leps, and to "Vorovayki"
I hope Atlanta is a friendly place and it's warm
That's all I actually need to know.
I arrived in Moscow, came off the train
I am walking past "Kurskaya" subway,
My jacket is covered with soil
I am walking through beggars, homeless, disabled and legless,
And I am not looking away.
I am entering my top class Uni,
just as you visit the new owners of your old flat,
Thinking you will only pop in for 10 minutes to pick up things,
but end up staying for the whole day.
I am walking to the back garden and a café
even though I am not hungry and I don't need to smoke;
I don't notice that some subjects are missing from the schedule and what it evokes.
As I am walking, I am trying to preserve in my memory the beautiful faces, that are still there,
I can still see those who continue to do today
what they believed was right yesterday.
They are laughing, eating, making notes and are discussing things,
They are wearing peace badges and rainbow symbols,
They make plans and continue
to create the future.
I am walking to the theatres,
In which I used to work before the war,
After all, Moscow's most beautiful people
have always been hiding in top class Unis and theatres.
And if before they used to be talking shop window exhibits,
Now they are lifeless Olga Buzova cardboard cut-outs from a "Pyaterochka" store.
I have a sudden urge to buy a flower, a carnation would be my choice.
Russia has become a rootless flower, but its people need a voice.
Despite blooming, this carnation is feeble and has begun to fade,
Like Russia, it has symbolised victory, death and dismay.
Since, picking carnations from street
will only bring bad fortune and feelings bittersweet,
I will buy my carnation!
I want to walk with it all day by the station,
Supporting its delicate droopy head with my fingers
Endlessly delaying time, I need to leave.
I’ve always enjoyed dried flowers
Like for instance, cotton- from my mum's homeland-
-It's a mother country of all exiled Russians.
A cotton flower doesn't have to die
And I don't have to witness and watch its life end;
It could be easily stored in the album between the pages,
It's not a pity to lose it or throw it away one day,
Cotton is sleeping in the album calm and unchanging,
marking the division of times with its black stem.
However, it's impossible to shove a living carnation
To squash Russia, that is still alive, between the album pages,
So I will walk with it in the streets
supporting its sleepy flower head
For as long as I need,
As long as God wills
Until time will do to us
whatever is meant to be.
I will hold it tight close to my chest,
Where our broken heart is,
Because we are all one,
And our homeland can't split into two-
Into a good and a bad one,
Into a living and a dead one,
Into a healer and a killer-
-We are all the above
And there is no border,
There is nowhere