Four Pieces

Gennady Aygi



since the time i remember anything
i know
by the pain in my eyes
where and with what blows
our silence is enlightened
and recollections suffice
here where awakenings clamor


and those who from that time began to see the lord's light
came for the first time to discriminate
black from white
and rapt in wonderment hastened to communicate
so this is—white
and this black


so burst
into visions other distinctions
and in howls as by the years
trampled in me I search out
for connections like a filament
advancing covered by mockery
as though with burdock burrs
somewhere in the ravine
(oh how it was
once upon a time
lonely and clear
no one but me and the field
an entire world)


Returning to Baudelaire

a smouldering
(from the paper
into the world)—

the master
as though
of apparentness:

a face
like God's—in the ashes—grasped:

of the not-"I" of the mind
crackling—with a flame! . . . —

into the countenance of this wind
the bright light of unpeopledness


To Joan Miró: Vowels' Bubbles

and so here behind the drawn Yellow
I sleep and "sleep feet—I say—and sleep arms"
and vowels I once and E and O and once again I
float shining enveloped in the cores of bubbles
of golden spit—from a whispering mouth!—
and flying through Yellow they leave holes
and its cold and I awake


To Max Ernst: A Twin-Rose

punched through—not as into sunlight
but into the light-of-the-Idea
punched through—and ensconced
a twin-rose: as though in the room


translated from the Russian by Alex Cigale

Read the original in Russian

Gennady Aygi (1934-2006) was a Chuvash Russian poet, widely acknowledged as a seminal influence on post-war Russian avant-garde poetry for his synthesis of traditional folk lyric and the work of such European poets as Paul Celan and the French poets he translated into Chuvash, a Turkic language. His friendship with Boris Pasternak attracted the attention of Soviet authorities and he was expelled from the Gorky Institute of Literature in 1958 for "composing a book of oppositional poems undermining the basic methods of socialist realism" (not published until 1993). Having previously written in his native Chuvash, he began to write poetry in Russian in 1960 following Pasternak's suggestion. For the following ten years he worked in Moscow's Mayakovsky Museum and occupied himself with translating world poetry into Chuvash, including the anthologies Poets of France, Poets of Hungary, and Poets of Poland. His own first book did not appear in Russia until Perestroika in 1991, though his work had been well-received abroad since the 60s. Befriended by the British translator, Peter France, his Selected in English appeared first in 1997 and a new Selected is just out from Wave Books. Aygi was awarded the Andrey Bely Prize (1987), the Pasternak Prize (2000), and the Prize of the French Academy (1972), and was repeatedly nominated for the Nobel Prize in Literature.

Alex Cigale is an Editor-at-large at Asymptote. His translations from the Russian, and his own English-language poems, have appeared in Colorado Review, Cortland Review, Modern Poetry in Translation, New England Review, PEN America, Two Lines, Drunken Boat, Gargoyle, and elsewhere. He is on the editorial boards of COEUR Journal, Madhatters' Annual, The St. Petersburg Review, Third Wednesday, and Verse Junkies. From 2011 until 2013, he was an assistant professor at the American University of Central Asia. He is a 2014-2015 NEA Translation Fellow for his work on Mikhail Eremin.