Three Poems

Galina Rymbu


the sleepers wake inside the dream, the awakened
doze on iron fainting couches, in the burrows of moles.
the politics of absence plays cards with itself.
inside every sign is a hallway, straight, down which
you walk alone.

there’s no sense looking back. from fear
clenching your fists in your pockets, rearing your body up
to meet the darkness, for tomorrow
no trace will be found of this exodus.

the sun
rises over a heap of buildings, inside events,
where every day,
now certified brain-dead,
another one, another two roll over like waves.

“beauty is in the eye of the beholder,”
says the rightist to the earth, spitting. and he will be right—
if we tear out this eye and find out what’s there—
inside every means of action, of vision
there are tiny grains, difficult seeds.
if we gather them, even here, we might once again sow
trouble and wheat.


“This isn’t war,” said a guy with a half-shaved head in the metro
to another guy, who was shaved all the way.
“No, not war,” say the analysts, “just some kind of action.”
“The territory of the occurrence isn’t completely clear,” comrades affirm in the dark.
“War is different,” you said, embracing me. “You don’t have to worry,”
the government officials say with confidence on the live feed
on all the remaining channels, but the blood
is already breaking out, quietly, on their foreheads, near their auditory canals—
thin streams, until a fountain pours forth from their mouths.

We agreed
to sit quietly, until we understand what’s going on. No additional clarity
and seventy years later, no additional clarity.

Anxiety, anxiety, circulating as drive. Multiple military conflicts
inside, in the mouth, in bed; just one touch and you collapse.

The streetlights blink with an insistent red, pushy-red flags
fill the streets of an unknown country. Dim corpses,
wrapped in St. George ribbons, sweet mummies in empty bars and restaurants
having a nice talk—about the possibilities of independent art and new forms,
about the posthuman world, about cheese and wine, which melt
our hearts, the hearts of the “backward.” While the virus of outskirts, the virus of borders
is already destroying their common sense, dear reason. Here’s a question—

How many sides are there in this war?
No more no less, no more no less. A jetliner with a glass bottom
crosses the borders of several countries. The leaders inside, bloated with fat and fear
look down, over black clouds—hatred and wrath—
finishing their final cruise. These demands raised against us
fall, humming, into a dark empty gullet.

Artillery pointed inside yourself. Foreign conflicts—in the myriad
incisions, failures, paralysis of memory, fear of birth—all collecting in a single moment.
They’ve brought in the dead birds of Russia and Ukraine on damp boards.

Currency skeletons on the death exchange, matter, a thick sediment in the world night . . .
Again I hear familiar songs,
Again the spring streets are filled with antifa militants.
Again I can love you,
Again and again, until the world night fills with peace,
And our victory is laid open.


There were so many factories just in our neighborhood:
The tire plant and the tire cord plant, then the oxygen plant
(which no one ever saw—just grey boxes, neither smoke nor flame),
The automation plant, the brick and asphalt factories, Power Plant No. 5,
The “Flight” factory, and Cosmic Avenue, and this time repeated as if in a memory—bathed
                    in sunlight.
The ice cream factory and in the cemetery near our building
Еven а small factory that made coffins.
          And there were a lot of schools because people had a lot of kids
          And the boys all went into the army, and they
          Probably didn’t even know why there was an army, and even more rarely
          Heard the word “armed forces,”
          Heard the word “history”

This was our history
And now
It’s become just a story about

How the proletariat becomes the precariat
And how dark blocks of swampy sun melt
In the light of new jobs

It’s about how to act
If they have a knife, and at any moment it
And you don’t have anything except the desire to speak differently
But with them
In their language

But let’s talk about that later

After all, soon there will be nothing but the straight line of history.

And so, my father, as soon as he arrived in this city
He got a job at the “Flight” factory, which
Produced details
For space rockets
(which the grandfather of my future husband
also constructed,
he used to go to the “Armenia” restaurant)
And after a bit of vodka in the evenings
They would play with the details on the empty shop floor, like kids. Mom
Taught in the polytechnic next to the factory,
People went on from there to work at another factory
Or—a little later—to kill (to love, to live).

And the “Flight” factory closed down, and they leveled the ground and put up new homes
                    for people—
Who are these people?

Then he worked at the “Natural Siberian Rubber” factory
He repaired pipes at a great height, and they were filled with terrible compounds

Аt night they—he and his friends—would steal scrap metal and take it through the “Oiler”
To the receiving station (the road glistening after the rain) on a big truck,
With chansonnières singing on the radio, Tanya Bulanova, Irina Allegrova, all those people

But then
A pipe burst and the doorbell rang and they told us where our dad was
And literally that same morning he came back all bandaged up, he’d run away, run home
                    to us
His stomach was burned with acid and covered with pustulating scabs
And there were two drops on his face too
Which now form a marvelous scar on his temple and next to his eye

But then that factory closed down too
I think maybe they sold it, and then sold it again (now to a western company)
And my father lost his job
And he came home to us completely different
And he forgot about fishing in the evenings behind the asphalt factory in our neighborhood
Where he and I would throw autumn whirlybirds in the maple grove, as thick smoke
                    curled across the sky
From the smokestacks of Power Plant No. 5

He also worked at the tire plant which was close to where we lived
But he didn’t work there for very long
In that place where black black tires rolled out for the cars of the future
For the people of the present, and as he thought—for our grandchildren, for your children
But I don’t know what’s happened to that rich, black factory now
Maybe it’s gone too

But the people, where are the people?
Because they stayed, didn’t they, they didn’t disappear along with the empty shop floors
And their bones aren’t resting under the crawler tracks of the bulldozers
They’re working somewhere, aren’t they, but it’s
Almost like they aren’t there.
Or are they?

Who are we talking to?

Also, when I was at school in the Cord settlement (that’s where the tire cord plant was
and the oxygen plant was somewhere nearby,
or at least there was a bus stop with that name,
but I never saw the plant itself—
only the grey cubes of the buildings without a single flame, without smoke)
. . . And so,
Even then I had the feeling that there would have to be
Some kind of conversation like this
That sooner or later it would happen, it would begin,
And I didn’t know who would be having it,
But I knew I wouldn’t have anything to say.
Could I possibly take part?
It’ll be like I’m somehow not here,
Though I am still there,
But how can we avoid the eternal aggression of taking part, taking their part?

It was in those days that the oil refinery still burned at the other end of town
and I’ve never seen a flame like that anywhere else
(how can I convey the intensity of that flame—should I say “fire,” “it’s insane,” “it’s inside
even when the forests outside Moscow were burning, and the animals fled

And the animals fled

Maybe that’s why I can never understand—how? what does it mean—to write
                    for workers?
What can it be—to separate the wheat from the chaff for them
Aren’t they the ones—grains of wheat
Aren’t they the—stones
Aren’t they—experience
And if that’s true, then what else can I say to my father?
Or maybe—those backwards times,
When my father went off to do some other jobs at someone’s dacha,
He also did carpentry, and he
Cut off the fingers on his right hand with a power saw,
But they sewed them back on.
And he doesn’t remember anything about it.
I’m four years old (when the line of history is straightest)
We’re sitting on the curb bandages mom dad and me
Drinking peach juice
Summer hot
Next to the hospital bright flowerbeds with perennials
There will come a time when no one remembers this
And I
Later I learned how to read music
But I never did learn how to hear that music
To make others hear it, I should say
On the outskirts in a building (hum, hum) right next to the Russian, Muslim, and Jewish
The place where they take the people from the factories,
And then bring them flowers and chocolates.
And we, the kids, we run in the rain in May among the graves and we eat the chocolates—

That’s how the straight line of history runs out.
And later in the yard behind the garages we summon up a witch,
And one girl even says she sold her soul to the devil for a bag of candy, some fish, and a new
                    ceiling lamp.

There isn’t one single metaphor here
There isn’t anything that would make you want to read on
Nothing traumatic
Obligatory or accidental
The events don’t rhyme at all and they happen every day
It’s just that a few words, a few things made me remember this

Do you still want to talk to me about it?

translated from the Russian by Jonathan Brooks Platt