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Poetry

Until the Threads Burn to Ash

By Aleksey Porvin
Translated from Russian by Isaac Stackhouse Wheeler
Aleksey Porvin's poem considers war and propaganda amid the invasion of Ukraine.

In our hospital childhood, we’d have pillow fights, and sometimes twist
a patchwork blanket into the shape of a giant club
to whack an opponent upside the head or parry blows from another blanket
rolled up into a telescopic baton with no lens we could press our eyes to
as we strained to distinguish the body heat of our hospital’s
sleepy star, fixing all our attention
on the nubile lines of that heavenly body
(She ate too many raw sunflower seeds, she’s about to puke all over that state-owned sheet
or whatever it is she’s covered in, though she doesn’t know it yet)
But boys care more about beating other boys
and in many the seed of desire is burnt out by families,
schools, the state
One of them closes his eyes, and when he opens them again, he sees
a country sewn together from scraps beating another just like it,
twisted by terror into a roll, like blueprints
punch-drunk from the impact of the sudden impossibility
of erecting the structure of a new reality
Where have those thirty years of life gone? Nowhere,
it seems, since nothing has changed
Those years went nowhere
and there was no time for astronomy

***

Make my decisions for me, build my plans,
embed in me your vision, your hearing, your sense of justice,
moth-eaten as it is
Hold an assault rifle with my hand, use my mouth
to justify the invasion, proclaim the hegemony
of some scraps over others until the threads burn to ash
It’s time to talk about that old Ukrainian woman
who offered the Russian soldiers raw sunflower seeds
Why raw ones? So sunflowers will grow from your bodies
when you die, at least there’ll be something to show for it…

The patchworks grapple, keep their textile grip
But the blankets rip with every blow
and there will be no telling which scrap went where
How are we supposed to stitch joy together with sorrow? Doesn’t matter
the foreman will still curse just as loud on state TV


From “Our Hospital Childhood.” © Aleksey Porvin. By arrangement with the author. Translation © 2022 by Isaac Stackhouse Wheeler. All rights reserved.

English

In our hospital childhood, we’d have pillow fights, and sometimes twist
a patchwork blanket into the shape of a giant club
to whack an opponent upside the head or parry blows from another blanket
rolled up into a telescopic baton with no lens we could press our eyes to
as we strained to distinguish the body heat of our hospital’s
sleepy star, fixing all our attention
on the nubile lines of that heavenly body
(She ate too many raw sunflower seeds, she’s about to puke all over that state-owned sheet
or whatever it is she’s covered in, though she doesn’t know it yet)
But boys care more about beating other boys
and in many the seed of desire is burnt out by families,
schools, the state
One of them closes his eyes, and when he opens them again, he sees
a country sewn together from scraps beating another just like it,
twisted by terror into a roll, like blueprints
punch-drunk from the impact of the sudden impossibility
of erecting the structure of a new reality
Where have those thirty years of life gone? Nowhere,
it seems, since nothing has changed
Those years went nowhere
and there was no time for astronomy

***

Make my decisions for me, build my plans,
embed in me your vision, your hearing, your sense of justice,
moth-eaten as it is
Hold an assault rifle with my hand, use my mouth
to justify the invasion, proclaim the hegemony
of some scraps over others until the threads burn to ash
It’s time to talk about that old Ukrainian woman
who offered the Russian soldiers raw sunflower seeds
Why raw ones? So sunflowers will grow from your bodies
when you die, at least there’ll be something to show for it…

The patchworks grapple, keep their textile grip
But the blankets rip with every blow
and there will be no telling which scrap went where
How are we supposed to stitch joy together with sorrow? Doesn’t matter
the foreman will still curse just as loud on state TV


From “Our Hospital Childhood.” © Aleksey Porvin. By arrangement with the author. Translation © 2022 by Isaac Stackhouse Wheeler. All rights reserved.

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