“Words flicker — strange, elegant — a Russian evanescence. Heat lightning pulses between her lines.”

— Dana Jennings, The New York Times


To A.K.

Are you still frightened, my clueless devochka?
Take a morsel of the Lord’s bread (and a spoonful of wine, no?),
Imagine how we will reside in Paradise, in the skies,
And how we (finally) will see every thing —
Our currency, all we have lost or stolen on Earth
Will glitter below: like the minute droppings of an iron bird.
And the proud angels, those tall sexless bitches,
Will again blend into their ruthlessness the sweetest honey,
Which they will pour down your throat, your exquisite throat.
And you are now mute and cautious, now small and tranquil,
Now you will forget what you desired. Now,
Who you were. Now, this lamentable city
Where we have lived together.
Are you still frightened, girl? Already
I am a bitter stranger.

— Polina Barskova, translated by Ilya Kaminsky, Kathryn Farris and Rachel Galvin


Additional translations from InTranslation at Brooklyn Rail:


From Mad Vatslav’s Diary

I was a coal-miner, water
Poured over my gray hair, my eyelashes.
My sister, alive and laughing,
Shepherded such glorious cows!

I was a soldier, and afraid of living
I did my best to die–but did not manage to stumble
Upon any bad luck. The tsar’s own daughter
Visited my cabin and gave me a magic rope.

I was a slave. My master’s wife
Adored us, the dark, forbidden Slavs.
The green sunrise was the strangest.
In sorrow I danced, swaying, trembling, on wooden porches.

— Polina Barskova, Translated by Katie Farris and Ilya Kaminsky

Evening in Tsarskoe Selo


Akhmatova and Nedobrovo
Stroll in the evening park,
Which begs for a footnote:
(e.g.: “A park. September.”). He thinks
Of gossip, news from the front,
And his new article, while she
Worries by the horizon’s bent line,
The park bench growing into the ill oak,
And an unfinished line in a poem.
He says: “Tomorrow I will go
To the Stray Dog. You?” And as
He waits for her to answer, Anna
Watches her glass-like shadow, and says:
“This has been an unnecessary day.”
He worries: Will she? Won’t she?
And she knows she won’t.
The pieces of heavy sky
Fill with mist. Nedobrovo takes off
His scratchy awkward scarf.
He wants to know! She–doesn’t want.
Already she half-whispers the ending
Of that comic unresolved verse,
And then, Lord–she laughs,
As the night licks at their boots.

— Polina Barskova, Translated by Katie Farris and Ilya Kaminsky


During the Fire of Moscow

I will try to live on earth without you.

I will try to live on earth without you.

I will become any object,
I don’t care what–

I will be this speeding train.
This smoke
Or a beautiful gay man laughing in the front seat.

The human body is without defense.

It’s a piece of firewood.
Ocean water hits it.
Lenin puts it on his official shoulder.

And therefore, in order not to suffer, a human spirit
Inside the water and inside the wood and inside the shoulder of a great dictator.

But I will not be water. I will not be a fire.

I will be an eyelash.
A sponge washing the hairs of your neck;
Or a verb, an adjective
I will become. Such a word

Slightly lights your forehead.
What happened? Nothing.
Something visited? Nothing.

What was there you cannot whisper.
No smoke without fire, they whisper.
I will be a handful of smoke
Over this, lost, Moscow.

I will console any man,
I will sleep with any man,
Beneath the army’s traveling horse carriages.

— Polina Barskova, translated by Katie Farris and Ilya Kaminsky

Available on Amazon


If I Were Born In Prague


“IF I WERE BORN IN PRAGUE re-interprets 17th century tavern songs and legends from the cultural heritage of Acadia, a culture destroyed when the British violently took over the region [into] poetry that also tips its hat to the French masters Rimbaud and Michaux.”

Ping Pong: A Literary Journal of Henry Miller Library

“IF I WERE BORN IN PRAGUE carries an evolved version of the troubadour torch, reading like a present-day Villon, with idealistic and romantic visions haunting his imagination. A remarkable, brief collection, unassuming in its small glory.”

Hey Small Press: A Newsletter for Public Libraries


If I were Born in Prague


If I were born in Prague, I’d avoid baroque concerts in libraries, libraries with plas- ter rosettes, libraries with flowers, libraries, with bland «Virgin and child». I would avoid it all.

I’d avoid talkative American women, the Little wax Jesus, Jesus who belongs to my imaginary childhood, to my father’s vocabulary: «soft as the velvet pants…»


If I were born in Prague

I’d grow up as a prémontré monk and would contemplate at the bottom of the hill. I would sit on ochre and green roofs, by the cream walls. I would sit on church towers, by the blackened iron turrets capped with a golden ball or a pistachio green ridge. I would jump in the circular windows.

I’d become the first monk to frequent the Strahov book of gospels; I’d spend my life, anonymously, as a callig- rapher, binding in leather all useless and beloved texts.


If I were born in Prague

I’d become a streetcar driver, riding around the city of puppets locked up in closets. I’d become a Jew and sing the Kaddish to the walls. I’d whistle a lullaby to the children born in Prague and drink every morning, like a poet.


If I were born in Florence

I’d become a painter of the massacre of the holy inno- cents — their slaughtered bodies at their mothers’ feet in Iraq. I’d draw the Virgin’s silent hands without a face.

I’d abandon the city and its Vespas for country life where the breeze steals the smell of fresh pasta and olive oil from trattorias. I’d pay a woman to paint a girl forgotten by God; I’d love her to the sound of the bells for Angelus.


If I were born in Chartres

I’d be a cathedral of stained glass. I would offer my stolen light to the sun. If I were born in Chartres, I could not live in the present.


If I were born in Nice

I’d open a French-fries-and-cheese stand of fries and re- blochon, house-fries: each day firmer, crisp like tempura, cheese pampered, melting. I’d open my hands to the motions of minutes– I’d stand, naked, hands open to the sun, in Nice.


If I were born in Nice

I’d become a bather, breasts in the sun pretending in- difference to stares of those who pretend to be looking at the sea. I’d drink with women a wine from the nearby hills, a mute pleasure.

And after that, I’d die.


– by Guy Jean, versions by Katie Farris and Ilya Kaminsky


Available from Argos Books




© Copyright Katie Farris