Translated by Max Hayward

The strippers are out on strike,
a fierce cancan drums on the sidewalks —
the strikers are marching in fur coats and blue jeans:
“To hell with it!
We won’t strip no more!”
They shove their exploiters, kick and claw them.
“Look at that bright bare ass!
Stop the scabbing bitch!”
There’s one in a yashmak — sneaking a smoke behind it,
and that one’s pulled a stocking over her face.
“Hey there, workers of the stage!
See that old-timer with her mangy ostrich feathers?
Just pushing thirty and it’s time to retire,
come on, girls, stick up for your rights:
social security, a commission on encores
and early pensions, like in the air force.
And what about colds caught in line of duty?”
The strippers are out on strike.
“And they’re always trampling
on our sensibilities!
We won’t strip no more!”
Half of mankind cries out with them:
“Why should we bare ourselves?
Let’s show our solidarity!”
A woman gets in her husband’s bed
all sewn up tight in a heavy coat:
“We won’t strip no more.”
She just lies there, the bitch,
and pokes fun at the man:
“Cats don’t take their coats off either!”
A woman under the knife
says to the surgeon:
“Cut through my dress! Solidarity forever!”
“We’re sick of posing,”
the models yell,
“Let’s go look at Venus de Milo —
they’ve got her up
in short-sleeved navy polka dots.”
The world’s ducking into its shell,
butterflies fold their wings
and struggle back, frantic,
into their cocoons.
A zealot’s covering over
naked loins in the Sistine Chapel,
and, with a corkscrew, he’s trying
to take the navel out of Michelangelo’s Adam:
the First Man wasn’t supposed to have one.
Same mentality as the old biddies
of Bobruisk.
Coverers-up of the world unite!
Spring is on strike, so are the buds —
there’s a yellow iron curtain.
Truth is on strike. Always naked,
it can’t be printed, and if it is,
there’s a fig leaf on it.
How to get at it?
The earth’s under asphalt,
it longs to be naked.
The world has a hell of an appetite.
The world will win.


To Vasili Aksyonov

Translated by William Jay Smith and Max Hayward

The stands go stampeding to the starting post
Down to where the horses paw the ground.
And, Vasya, you think we’re betting on them?
They’re betting on us — it’s the other way round.
That black mare has put all her money on me —
Just look at her dappled rump;
A hot tip tells her whom to pick;
And I always win, but the take is hers.
So the rulers think it is they who rule,
While the people think they rule the rulers.
I lie woods and the hills have gambled on us;
So what can we do but race like hell?
The horses whisper, chafing at the bit.
Barfly pisses on the post, linked to it
By a frozen yellow chain:
it is forty below.
A Christmas tree ornament, a bird freezes up there.
Night, moving in from the east, is caught congealed mid-air,
The shutter of a broken camera.
But at Peredelkino, in the writers’ club,
Sixteen windows are open a crack.
In front of each hangs a chunk of frozen air —
Congealed hot air.
Some writers cover the windows with gauze
So their portentous ideas won’t escape like flies.
And the air balloons, sagging, thick and slimy,
As with curds in a cloth.
Horses gaze about them, penned up in cities
Like groves of dappled four-trunked trees.
Now they’re whistling at Barfly,
But who is whistling?
The whistle thinks the whistle’s whistling.
The policeman thinks that he is whistling.
The law thinks that it is whistling.
The planet twirls, a pea in a whistle,
But in whose whistle? Who’s whistling — wait!
Look, Barfly’s clown. And the others laugh —
Russian Filly, Pale Horse, Fate.
The horses laugh,
Making terrible sounds:
“Come on, Egghead, let’s go! Get a move on!”
While their heads sway on tiny parachutes
Of steam exhaled from their nostrils
And frozen at once.
It is forty-five below:
Barfly lies at the starting post —
On his back: to the left, five others.
Above his open mouth, blunt as a corkscrew
Sticking up from a penknife, his frozen soul,
A screw-shaped icicle protruding into the air;
It has spiraled and condensed.
And as a leaf or twig freezes in an icicle,
Frozen within is its final Certificate of Good Deeds;
(In reality, the denunciation of a neighbor for not turning off his radio).
Souls like empty bottles are poised above the other horses,
While among their bodies wanders an angel.
In a street-cleaner’s smock, it strolls along,
Collecting the souls, the empty bottles,
Drawing its finger carefully over each to see if it is broken,
Sadly tossing the rejects over its shoulder,
Leaving behind the print of horseshoes in the snow . . .
And the Angel-Horse, in the frozen haze,
Legs dissolving as in nitric acid,
Playfully arches its neck like the curved runner of a sleigh,
And then, on its belly, slides away.