Philip Metres and Tatiana Tulchinsky translating Lev Rubinstein

Pure Lyric

1. One
2. Two
3. Three
4. Four
5. What is it?
6. Six
7. So?
8. (when I arrived my anxious heart was filled anew with grief)
9. I’m here
10. (an inadvertent touch and so many feelings arise)
11. (an unsteady star that staggers along on the horizon)
12. Yes or no?
13. (like a lawless comet his life did not turn out so well)
14. Fourteen
15. (not in vain does the blood rush out and sing a song of war)
16. I don’t know
17. (freedom won’t grow old just take a look it’s always with you)
18. I cannot
19. (it’s not so easy to survive today the other day)
20. (no efforts are ever in vain there’s no doubt about it)
21. There is nothing
22. (but let’s be very careful to not damage anything)
23. (the tired brain gives rise to words but they dissolve in the mouth)
24. (you can’t believe it until you can see it for yourself)
25. Is everything all right here?
26. (it’s so strange to look at the sun yet see the stars and moon)
27. (frost and sun and fire and ice and earth and sky day and night)
28. (who would not fear to reveal the mystery of his heart)
29. (who would spend days and nights on the eternal book I Ching)
30. (who’s that yonder in the mohair beret through the fogged glass)
31. Thirty-one
32. (nightmare skull inside out carpet and tunic all bloody)
33. (the meaning of this moment now flashes and vanishes)
34. I need to think
35. (and in the morning he felt better even asked to eat)
36. (love where’d that come from would not let me die anew)
37. (a friend shared how the lady farted at the party)
38. (one who listens ironically to the fiery poet)
39. I think
40. (in a system of strange reflections my face will flash across)
41. (what a bitch she can’t even sit down with a sick person)
42. (we came and only then knew everyone would have to leave)
43. I think
44. (this is all so fickle and strange so strange it’s not yet)
45. (my piercing lyre commands my heart)
46. (that it’s not about saving the world)
47. I think
48. that the content and justification of each gesture
49. is directly proportional to the degree
50. in which one is aware of
51. the whole measure of responsibility for it
52. and the whole range of
53. its effects
54. (from dream to dream one haunting shade)
55. How would you say “one, two, three, four?”
56. (she can’t not know her little boy’s unhappy without her)
57. (with the disaster ahead you don’t even want to live)
58. Fifty-eight
59. (I call for death it takes its time and does not come)
60. Sixty
61. (I drive my death away it nods and says nothing)
62. How would you say: "I'm here?"
63. (you you alone will I call and beckon to close my eyes)
64. Sixty-four
65. (come come see me and care for my grave at the holiday)
66. How would you say: “Yes, no, I don’t know, I cannot"?
67. (better to sprout as grass than the dusty gloria mundi)
68. (it’s set in stone okay let’s step aside and take a look)
69. Sixty-nine
70. (we’ll fall asleep I know for sure we’ll not rush in waking up)
71. Seventy-one
72. Seventy-two
73. (listen to the plaintive song cry together I don’t mind)
74. Seventy-four
75. (until I realized the meaning of the faint scent of loss)
76. (the youth may feed on hope but you’re no longer young)
77. How would you say: "There is nothing"?
78. (sure you can’t answer for everyone, just explain what’s what)
79. How would you say: "Is everything all right here?"
80. (you say who needs this I say it depends what you mean)
81. (you say I can’t go on like this I say okay please stop)
82. (you say the blood runs so cold I say go to bed and sleep)
83. How would you say: "Anything else?"
84. (let’s not talk about it anymore it’s bad as it is)
85. And what else?
86. (how do you say mama table thanks goodbye table love)
87. (dragonflies flew above my head full of obscure delights)
88. (how would you say ash flies birds are about to fly away)
89. (the pines swayed above me promising coolness and peace)
90. (how would you say my leeward fate will be so cold and bitter)
91. (the birds hovered above me a ghost and symbol of hope)
92. (it will be so funny when we are taken one by one)
93. Ninety-three
94. Ninety-four
95. (neither compassion nor farewell will reflect on the face)
96. Ninety-six
97. (like this no punctuation but ellipsis at the end)
98. Ninety-eight
99. Ninety-nine
100. What’s after that?
101. One hundred and one
102. What?
103. One hundred and three
104. What’s that like?
105. One hundred and five

From Beginning to End

From the beginning, it’s the way it usually is.  At the same time, so that it’s as if there was nothing before this, and there will be nothing after.

Basically the same.  At the same time, so that it’s as if everything’s just begun.

Approximately the same.  But so that the feeling of the first impulse is preserved fully.

In the same spirit.  But in such a way that the feeling of freshness and novelty does not weaken for a moment.

Everything the same.  And at the same time, so that the feeling of confidence gets stronger and stronger.

As before.  At the same time, so that it’s completely clear everything is in order, everything is in its place.

As before.  At the same time, so that not even a thought arises about the possibility of changes to the given situation.

Just the same.  But so that the given situation is conceived as the only possible one.

Exactly the same.  But so that the feeling of peace does not leave for a single moment. 

The same.  But in such a way that the feeling of constant peace mingles with the feeling of quiet joy.

The same.  But in such a way that the questions concerning what’s next, having hardly arisen, disappear by themselves.  

The same.  But such that no recommendations referring to what’s next are given the slightest consideration.

The same.  But so that emerging doubts are either resolved by themselves or rejected as far-fetched.

Same.  But so that there is no place for any doubts at all.

Same.  Continue on the same principle.  But so that a constant recording of positive states does not somehow lead to negative results.

And so on, until the end.  But in such a way that a vague feeling remains that there is also a real possibility of something else.

First It’s One Thing, Then Another


First it’s one thing.
Then another.
Then something else.
And on top of that, something else yet…


First it’s too specific.  
Then it’s too general.
Then neither this nor that.
And on top of that, they peep over your shoulder…


First it’s too verbose.
Then it’s too terse.  
Then it’s completely wrong.
And on top of that, they call you to go somewhere…


First it’s too cheery.
Then it’s too gloomy.
Then you don’t quite catch the mood.
And on top of that, you’ve got to size up every minute…


First you don’t have the strength to move.
Then it’s impossible to stop.
Then the shoes are dusty.
And on top of that, they start holding forth and talking crap…


First you don’t have the strength to go past the table of contents.
Then you have to suffer through but you don’t know why.
Then you get a paper cut.
And on top of that, they come at you from all sides…


First you forget what you were thinking about all morning.
Then it’s impossible to resist some rhyme like, “What’s between the poet’s odes/is what he has beneath his clothes.”
Then someone is sick.
And on top of that, doubt overcomes you…


First the system of your own ideas arouses in you only annoyance.
Then your own experience seems so worthless.
Then crows scream over the empty fields.
And on top of that, you happen to look in the mirror…


First a chance memory nags at your heart.
Then everything is covered in ash.
Then they hide it so you won’t ever find them.
And on top of that, see what's going on…


First your own silence burdens you.
Then you get the feeling that you’ve said your piece for many years to come.
Then suddenly you forget about the ineffable beauty of this moment.
And on top of that, there is complete uncertainty…


First ghosts appear in the darkness, raising alarm.
Then other strange things follow.
Then your hopes get dashed midway on the journey.
And on top of that, you can’t figure anything out…


First the little ball of mercury rolls to meet a grim fate.
Then a heavy memory haunts your heels.
Then the overall sense stubbornly eludes you. 
And on top of that, nature abhors a vacuum…


First the East dawns.
Then the West darkens.
Then there is the daily grind.
And on top of that, the times we live in…


First the distances stretch out.
Then you can’t see a thing.
Then there’s fog in the heart.
And on top of that, you need to understand everything…


First it’s about enjoying yourself in spite of everything.
Then it’s about what’s clear and what’s unclear.
Then it’s about how to turn a deaf ear to the rattle of dwindling hopes.
And on top of that, you can’t get anything done…


First it’s about the marked drop of enthusiasm in our ranks.
Then it’s about the possibility of getting rid of our addiction to naming everything.
Then it’s about the relevance of seeing things in just that way.
And on top of that, you’ve got to figure out what’s allowed and what’s not.


First I’m glad and I don’t know why.
Then I’m worried and I don’t know why.
Then I don’t know what draws me in.
And on top of that, there’s all sorts of conversations…


First it’s the casual glint of gold.
Then it’s the screen that’s torn.
Then something’s blurted out thoughtlessly.
And on top of that, you’ve got to wait until they ask you…


First it’s the hobbled ability of existence.
Then it’s the meaning of every gesture.
Then your consciousness begins to rattle.
And on top of that, you can’t get anyone’s attention…


First it’s the memory of each crack of the wood.
Then it’s the swallow of a love potion.
Then there’s some confusion about the places.
And on top of that, they don’t want to hear you out…


First there’s the fugitive image of eternity.
Then they’re waiting right outside the door.
Then the titanic effort to wake up.
And on top of that, what’s impossible to see suddenly presents itself...


First it’s memory’s drooping forehead.
Then it’s a defector from tomorrow’s noon.
Then they’re at you, pinning you to the ground.
And on top of that, you’ve got to explain everything to everyone…


First it’s the chill breath of night wind.
Then the earth’s bubbles keep coming up in conversation.
Then you naively count on getting by as you always have.
And on top of that, there are these…


First it’s the clear dominance of one principle over another.
Then it’s the generality that only exists in dreams.
Then they can’t wait to catch you in a contradiction.
And on top of that, there’s some kind of reaction you don’t understand…


First it’s the description of an infinite number of choices.
Then it’s expectation of events that have no counterpart in any mythology.
Then you and I don’t know what’s going on with each of us.
And on top of that, what’s happened seems like it didn’t...


First it’s an overcast morning after a sleepless night.
Then it’s impossible to grasp all existence.
Then it’s that irresistible longing for the everlasting.
And on top of that, what hasn’t happened seems like it did…


First it’s one more item in the registry of travails.
Then all kinds of things emerge and who knows what to do with them.
That you have to suffer through but you don’t know why.
And on top of that, you can’t really get going...


First it’s hardships and anxieties.
Then it’s hopes and comforts.
Then it’s the sky over Austerlitz.
And on top of that, you’ve got to make a decision of some sort…


First it’s the sticky leaves.
Then you’ve got to match each step to the one before and after.  
Then it becomes quite clear that it can’t continue like this forever.
And on top of that, there's no end in sight…

Lev Rubinstein

One of the founders of Moscow Conceptualism, Lev Rubinstein is among Russia's most well-known contemporary writers.  He has been called a “Postmodern Chekhov.” His work is conceived as series of index cards, a poetic medium which he was inspired to create through his work as a librarian at the Lenin Library. His work circulated through samizdat and underground readings in the "unofficial" art scene and found wide publication in the late 1980s. Rubinstein lives in Moscow and writes cultural criticism for independent media. Compleat Catalogue of Comedic Novelties is forthcoming from Ugly Duckling Presse in 2014.

Philip Metres is the author and translator of a number of books and chapbooks, including Compleat Catalogue of Comedic Novelties (2014), A Concordance of Leaves (2013), abu ghraib arias (2011), To See the Earth (2008). His work has garnered two NEA fellowships, the Watson Fellowship, five Ohio Arts Council Grants, the Beatrice Hawley Award, the Arab American Book Award, the Cleveland Arts Prize. He received a Creative Workforce Fellowship, thanks to the Community Partnership for Arts and Culture, residents of Cuyahoga County, and Cuyahoga Arts & Culture. He is professor of English at John Carroll University in Cleveland.

Tatiana Tulchinsky has translated many works of fiction, poetry, drama and non-fiction, among them Leo Tolstoy's Plays in three volumes, Anna Politkovskaya's A Small Corner of Hell, Anthology of Russian Verse, Selected Works of Venedict Erofeev. She received a Best Translation of the Year Award of the American Association of Slavists, a Witter-Bynner Foundation for Poetry Grant, and a Creative Writing Translation Fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts. Currently she’s working on a project translating and promoting English-language drama for the Russian theater stage.