Listen to Ksenia Zheludova read “an age-old female pastime” in the original Russian.
an age-old female pastime: bringing home in one’s hem
gossip, scents, fiction, tenderness, children.
walk in a long skirt in the darkness and the void
and you’ll begin to recount the hard lot of women:
nothing to bring except the shadow, scorched into the wall,
except the letter curled to ash in its cover.
and so you walk in the dark up to your knees in death,
up to your ankles in war.
Listen to Ksenia Zheludova read “you bring him some tenderness” in the original Russian.
you bring him some tenderness in your narrow palms,
cupped to form a fragile, trusting hollow;
he lightly slaps your proffered hands away and snickers;
no, of course it doesn’t hurt, oh please, this couldn’t possibly hurt;
tenderness shatters to smithereens.
one single habit, just one, you need more than air:
learn to stand, or walk slowly, do not run headlong,
so that later nothing stings in the way scraped knees or elbows sting,
so that later you don’t suffer from a sticky, loose-lipped memory,
or burn with shame, shooting glances as you run.
the most horrible things, remember this, are incremental,
in the everyday, are discussed over a late lunch,
worm their way into the course of events unnoticed;
so—no, you won’t be able to scream or sob
upon seeing that name in a chronicle of our times.
this is how a much-loved book—or a book half-read—
is left behind on a rain-sodden bench in a park;
this is how earrings are lost while you kiss;
this is how a bracelet considered a talisman, a good-luck charm
one day finds another wrist:
ever so slightly big on you, but for that other hand, a perfect fit.
Listen to Ksenia Zheludova read “sometimes I simply know” in the original Russian.
sometimes I simply know:
all of us have a hive inside
full of monotonous, measured humming
and the scent of wildflower honey.
I ended up with a wasp nest,
overgrown with rusty ribs,
all the wasps cold and dead.
the last one fled down my throat
and is still alive only
because there it stayed:
© Ksenia Zheludova. By arrangement with the author. Translation © 2021 by Josephine von Zitzewitz. Photos © Ksenia Zheludova. All rights reserved.