The International Literary Quarterly

May 2008

Click to enlarge picture.

Wolf and other untitled poems by Irina Ratushinkaya

Translated by C.J.K. Arkell

Whimpering “no more wolves”,
Don’t ask for a special bullet,
Even a puppy’s considered more worthy
And none of the marksmen who revel in death
Would toss you a toast down his gullet.
No knife is whet for those we forget
So be damned as a dog or a bitch,
And your wounded brother will bare his teeth
To hear you whine in his ditch.
He’ll lick his wounds, for his time has come,
He won’t wait for an answering call,
And to cast a bullet for such as him -
The world has no silver at all.


Untitled Poem
I hope there’ll be grass enough for a Przhevalsky horse
Though it’s true that it’s shorter than a thousand years ago;
As for progress, it may be that you are correct, of course,
But my wife (and you know what some wives are like) says no.
I weighed up the pros and cons, then looked at a child,
Thought again, and decided I did not agree to die out,
To consent to utter extinction was something that riled,
So lost that there’s hardly a bone to collect, no doubt!
Yet you, my friend, are prepared to gather them all?
I thank you so much, but somehow I’m used to existing
By a glacier under a sun that’s a shaggy ball.
It’s an irreversible change? Just because you persist in
Counting by centuries, things that are too small to weigh
As the units of fate, which I will not measure; I’ll stand
By my former opinion; my tribe, till Judgment Day,
Will be blowing its pipes at sunset, in my native land.
Farewell, I wish you plenty of grass and water,
A very intelligent son and a well-nourished daughter;
I’m grateful for your research, and impatient remain
Till I hear from you in a thousand years again.

Untitled Poem
Where am I?
A question so silly and flaccid,
But those who are forced not to die
(With oxygen burning like acid)
Can scarce move their lips.
Where am I?
So for me, who can never forget the line
Beyond which no dog can run, no raven can fly,
To wake up anew: where am I?
And to see: it is you. Agreed - let it be on this side.
Oh well,
Let there be the strange ceiling
I yield
To the murk - Mordovia’s or Italy’s -
Whose time is this to get up? To feel cold,
Whose dawn? To be beaten
Whose anthem, these glory-be’s?
So what?
Since I rest on your shoulder
This visit’s allowed
In this light, whose grey hues
Are the nobody’s hour,
This ‘hello’ - which I need not excuse.

Untitled Poem
Rejoice my wild falcon, we’re given a day to be hunters,
Rejoice my wild steed; you will not need your bridle today;
We shall rush the June hills with flight and galloping thunder,
And at night God will light a huge star to show us our way.
We’ll give a generous bag to those whom we seek
For a roof, and we’ll give the girl who will wake us from rest
A sound silver ring; smile love, when you hear falcons shriek,
If you give birth to a son, send a message poste haste.
Untitled Poem
Don’t let it get at you. Guv,
Don’t count your steps on the track;
The Great Bear’s howling above
Like a bomber’s spinning dive,
And in front of you it’s pitch-black.
So try not to look straight ahead,
There’s nothing but trouble in that,
Just look at that nifty old lag,
He knows where to go, the rat.
Click the breech block now,
Don’t turn your head, just yelp;
Your comrade, the Tambov Wolf,
Will howl from the moon to help.
Your greatcoat’s scabbed with frost,
The time to be home’s long gone,
But your lips will freeze into “Schnell!”,
As they’re trying to say “Move on!”
The old lag’s nuts, on purpose
He leaves no marks on the ground,
And the shadows of your body
Are facing the wrong way round.
Snow is hugging your fingers
And now you can’t pull the trigger!
“How long are you in for, mate?”
“I forgot - come on, let’s escape.”
Untitled Poem
Please buy me, oh please buy me,
I’m ginger, I’ll obey;
No need to love, just like me
And take me home today.
Of mice I’ll catch you hosts
And rats (if they’re not too strong),
I’ll rid your house of ghosts,
Call ‘puss’ and I’ll come along.
I’ll purr with all my skill
And warm your bones when you’re sick,
I’ll sit on the window sill
And stare at the candle stick.
My eyes beg you, my saviour,
Take me away from this cage,
Don’t mind about your neighbour,
I’ll tame her tedious rage.
Please save me from this death;
Who else have you saved from such fate?
You sigh with a willing breath
And stroke me through the grate,
But you, like the rest, will depart,
No miracle, no cheer,
But oh, my dearest heart,
Please take me away from here.

Untitled Poem
O, iron September,
Children - to schoolrooms,
Apples - to cider presses
And you - to jail;
The sky has put off its stars
And now goes nude;
Most empty the mornings
And everyone shares damn all!
Metal’s particularly bare,
No nudist competes,
But it’s most obscene when it’s covered with something, like cloth.
At exercise (“Hands behind your back!”)
Crows meet
To ask if it’s right for a free bird
To gulp from the trough
In a human zoo.
They’re like a net
In the rigid air, and so the sky grows dun,
Wise feathers are falling lightly, precisely, and yet
Not a single white feather has fallen,
Not a single one.
O, merry September,
The reckless hours
Of semi-avian bones,
You young beggars, be bold!
Hark, century, whom we fostered, as the clock on the tower
Measures out the ration of heaven,

Untitled Poem
If God’s paradise exists, my old
Parrot surely lives there - he who told
Half of Europe’s fortunes, who abused
All mundane authorities, and used
To swear in every language known to man,
Who took his final breath cupped in my hands,
Who pitied no one any more at all,
And I was the only one he called a fool.

Untitled Poem
White cat padding on his paws,
Rubbing whiskers on the doors,
Tomorrow it is bound to snow
And the house roofs high and low
Will be covered to the beam
All in snow, as in a dream.
The cat has paws, a tail, and tum
Like a fluffy little drum,
Drinks no milk but shows his love
For the snow and clouds above.
Over the moon he walked last night,
His claws became all golden bright,
And his pawmarks could be seen,
For he forgot to lick them clean,
Stretched across the sky so far
That they went from star to star
Then he jumped down, and in a trice
Scared to death the rats and mice,
Sat on the chimney, washed his face
And we will take him to our place.

Untitled Poem
No tree plucked the apple, and so
They’re not ashamed to be nude,
They send their leaves, an innocent crew,
Down to those in the basement below.
I see a cloud -
And you?

Untitled Poem
We still live in that wretched year, where it smells
Of carbolic acid, like nursery schools,
Where the paint has been licked off the toys long ago
But they promise to show us a film tomorrow;
Where we’re leisurely taught the basic rules -
Sing and dance in a ring, and tears are for fools,
But where every day, when evening came,
One of us, somehow, would cease his playing
And stand at the door, by chance maybe,
Then say in quiet despair,
No, they weren’t for me.

Untitled Poem
The storm is past, the flight is cleared,
This time there’s no return - off to
A freshly washed world like a chick that’s appeared
Still damp - and they’ll ask. Is that really you?
And was your journey pleasant and light?
Are there no sorrows in your heart?
What colour are the clouds on the other side
Where you were silent, and apart?

Untitled Poem
Good evening, my boy,
You are on your own again,
Your awkward nib is tearing once more at the page,
The net curtain’s pattern is fretted by light from the lane;
Like a pogrom the windows are flogged by the winter’s rage.
You have a fit when you read the rubbish you write
And death is childishly tempting and innocent,
But there in the void of the rattle, away from the light,
Seeds are striking against the round firmament.
The time and the place have still to set themselves fair
For you to be rising, on high,
And you and your nib -
An inseparable pair- are fated to perish elsewhere:
These seeds will shoot yet, my boy, through each juvenile rib.