Translation Tuesday: “Hedgehog” by Anastasia Afanas’eva

About the dead, we cannot speak / for they are completed.

For this week’s Translation Tuesday, Anastasia Afanas’eva constructs a world of shapes, shadows, and sensations that thematize dread and longing. The poem raises up images from the page in a maelstroma deluge of realizations that impress themselves on the reader like a flood. But the images’ actions are unreal; they are strung together in uncanny ways. In this poem, language acts absurdly, mirroring the unmistakable confusion of loss and of reckoning. The Hedgehog and its shadow are central, and show, in verse, how the most innocuous of things can become sutured with the weight of the universe.


  1. Look what is happening on the earth
    there is no distance, only a sieve
    anything smaller than its holes
    falls awayAnd that which is bigger lying empty
    shines as if under a bush at night
    a lost phone
    no one to pick up
  2. Oblivion grows and grows
    and stands at full height
    all of its glass height
    simply as the word “yes.”It grows like a flood
    impossible to conduct
    like killing a hedgehog
    the shadow of a hedgehog
    follows its killer
    all of his life
  3. Who fell in your void
    who is left to discern?I would have spoken
    but only a leak is possible
    on our board

    He who finds deep waters here
    will drown
    he does not believe what he is told
    there is not a drop around only sand

    In a city sink
    he learns the fate of the river

  4. The oblivion grows and grows
    in large pink-skinned fruit
    He cannot say where he is from, who he is
    and why.I inflict my touch on his soft skin
    and later, spit onto his forehead.

    The spit skids off
    as if it were on ice.
    These throes of passion
    are for him, out of place.

    He is not flawed.
    He does not mourn, or laugh.

    Look how he dries off,
    and there is simply more shine.
    He is smooth, white, and has so much gloss
    that I suspect he is flat
    and this brings him joy:
    in a three dimensional world
    he knows neither volume nor depth.

  5. See what is happeningfor the one who was hopelessly drowning
    the earth opened its black chasm.
    About the dead, we cannot speak
    for they are completed.

    And behind them goes the praise.

  6. Look how your hill has grown in
    Where there was a creek, now there is moss
    where there is a leak, the gap
    reliably patches itself with grass.Your places release that
    which made them yours

    Look how life has outlived us all
    The life, that carried you like a needle
    inside your chest
    soaring at impossible heights
    losing weight in flight

    your skin tightens
    for this is how we are made

    See how everything has healed, and how
    that which stood on all sides
    like the walls of an ocean
    murmurs in the white sink
    and when you are irritated by the splash
    you turn the faucet off

  7. Look what is happening on this earth
    how it has become smooth
    the asphalt grown in, like grass
    and the roads with a new black
    highlight your whitenessAnd the air huge inside of you
    pierces all of the openings
    along your spine
    the void is hammered in
    with a glass nail

    It is impossible to return
    to something that is no longer there
    to someone who is not there
    you cannot reach them by phone
    and perhaps there is no one to call

    Do not turn back on the roads
    you have already passed

    You walk on them
    as if on a hedgehog
    and another water is calling.

Translation from the Russian by Alla Vilnyanskaya

Anastasia Afanas’eva was born in 1982. She graduated from the Medical University of Kharkov with a degree in psychiatry. She worked in her field at the Kharkov Psychiatric Hospital. Her poetry, prose, and criticism of contemporary poets has been published in numerous journals and anthologies including AirThe New WorldVavilon, and others. She is a translator of poetry from English and Ukrainian. Most recently she successfully translated the work of Ilya Kaminsky, Musica Humana (New York: Ayloros, 2012). She received a Laureate Prize from the journal Word in 2005, The Russian Award in 2006, a prize from Literary X-Ray in 2007, and a Shortlist Prize in Debut in 2003. Her work has been translated into English, Italian, Dutch, and Belorussian.

Alla Vilnyanskaya was born in the Ukraine and raised in the U.S. She came to Philadelphia in 1989 with her parents. She holds an MA from Miami University and an MFA from Columbia University. Her work has been published in multiple online and print journals including ZaumPoetry InternationalSaint Ann’s Review and Boog City. She is an alumni of The Home School and has won several teaching fellowships and other awards from Miami University and Columbia University. She is currently working on her first full length book of poetry.


Read more translations on the Asymptote blog