Irina Mashinski moved to the US from Moscow in 1991. She is the author of ten books of poetry in Russian. She is co-editor, with Robert Chandler and Boris Dralyuk, of The Penguin Book of Russian Poetry (Penguin Classics, 2015) and Cardinal Points Journal (Brown University), and co-translator of Lev Ozerov’s Portraits Without Frames (NYRB, 2018). Her work appeared in Poetry International, Plume, The World Literature Today, Asymptote, and elsewhere. She is the recipient of several Russian literary awards, and, with B.Dralyuk, of the First Prize in the 2012 Joseph Brodsky/Stephen Spender Translation Prize competition (UK). In 2016, she won the International Hawthornden Fellowship.
To the Border
November, bride in a glass casket.
from the entrance—toward the light—outside!
A careful step--here, there—boot toe
the mica of this brittle puddle.
Quiet! Approaching the border!
This border—in mist!
An elm-branch – that is so familiar! — hangs like a fruit-drop
the eyes' crystal breaks oblique light-rays
so like a glider—arms stretched out—across the convex
of the ironed surface of blank ice
the slow pedestrian plane slips cautiously,
clouds rush in under him
like children, and the border
(Translated from Russian by Tony Brinkley and the author)
Tony Brinkley is a retired Professor of English. He has translated
poetry by Mandelshtam, Tsvetaeva, Pasternak, and Akhmatova, as well as Rilke, Hölderlin, Brecht, Baudelaire, Rimbaud, and Valéry. Many of his translations can be found online at www.independent.academia.edu/TonyBrinkley.
In Twilight. January 1st
I’ll get it—just a little more and …
I’ll stand on tiptoe in the morning,
and then, come evening, I will reach
the tender fir tree’s ticklish withers,
forget about myself beneath it,
and feel the topmost needle’s touch.
All morning, the accordion’s
complaints were heard, the worrying
over my palm’s unlengthy line.
But toward evening, you are higher
than yourself – look, from the spire:
the tree, the winding road, the moon.
As if you’re on the downward slope of
your own years—so bright and hopeless,
alone, inside a rocking tram.
The view's the same – and yet it’s altered.
Whom will you tell that you’ve just started,
a new force pulses through your palm?
(Translated from Russian by Boris Dralyuk and the author)
Boris Dralyuk is a literary translator and the Executive Editor of the Los Angeles Review of Books. He is co-editor (with Robert Chandler and Irina Mashinski) of The Penguin Book of Russian Poetry, editor of 1917: Stories and Poems from the Russian Revolution and Ten Poems from Russia, and translator of Isaac Babel, Mikhail Zoshchenko, and other authors. His poems have appeared in The New Criterion, The Yale Review, Jewish Quarterly, and elsewhere.
Our shoulder blades have become
oars of fire, rowing back.
Unwrinkled linen sheets are floes of ice
my hips slip down.
Brown is the twilight of my room,
owls stare from their dark pouches –
as if my parents were here with me,
sleeping across the room at arms' length.
A boat is hidden behind the curtain
and I am biting on the strings of my childhood night gown --
gnaw at the wet satin knot,
before you know it
the boat will come untied.
(Translated from Russian by the author)
Away from Ocean’s Pull
My family name, waving her mermaid tail
tells me, admittedly, a different tale
than she would care admit.
But her fish scales flash cyan,
two vowels splitting at her fin
—which deep will echo back?
You reel her in but she just wriggles off,
no matter if you’re Gilgamesh or Beowulf,
mere fisherman or Orpheus himself.
But move away from her and she will cleave,
a ray of light into a watery dark, she’ll give
a jolt into your chaste unsullied rib.
Deep in the night, between the river banks,
past rusty anchors, chains with broken links,
without a splash, she’ll show up at your door.
Coiling herself around the scaling beacon,
it’s not the breeze that she is drinking
she thirsts for something else.
She sees a hump rise black above the flow—
hears music pouring from it, hot and raw,
a husky voice is channelling Janis Joplin!
—Over a dark abyss that’s shallow but our own,
that second-rate Titanic’s trudging on
past a bell tower submerged mid-waterway.
But silliest ditties move the most when sung—
she listens till her heart is wrung,
then takes a breath and surfaces off starboard.
One touch, and then she swims beside the hull,
leading it upstream, far from ocean’s pull
from the crude stare of oily morte.
In nacreous dawn, not parting but apart,
riskily close to fireworks and sparks,
to rocking dancers, swaying decks, and lifeboats,
blue benthal riverweed is winding round her wrist,
the arching waves safeguard her in their midst
and locks of foam cling to her gleaming forehead,
swim on, swim on,
I’ll be your guiding light.
(Translated from Russian by Maria Bloshteyn)
Maria Bloshteyn is a Russian-born scholar of comparative literature and a translator. Her book Russia is Burning: Russian Poetry of World War II, the first anthology of Russian Wolrd War II poetry to include Gulag poets, émigré poets, Samizdat poets, and other marginalized poetic voices, is being brought out this year by UK’s Smokestack Books.