Vladimir Mayakovsky

Translated from Russian by Alex Cigale

SO THIS IS HOW I TURNED INTO A DOG

This is entirely unbearable!
As though bitten all over by malice.
I rage not like anyone could possibly,
Like a hound at the bareheaded moon –
in its face
then howl at everything.

Nerves, it must be….
Go outside,
take a stroll.
And in the street didn’t calm down at anyone.
Somebody shouted about the good evening.
I have to answer her:
she’s an acquaintance.
I want to.
I feel –
but can’t like a human being.

What is this barbarity?
Am I asleep, what gives?
Squeeze myself:
the same as I’ve been,
the same face I’ve grown accustomed to.
Touch my lips,
and out from under my lip –
a fang.

Quickly I cover my face as though blowing my nose.
Rush homeward, redoubling my stride.
Carefully rounding the policeman’s post,
suddenly thundering:
“Policeman!
He’s got a tail!”

I trace it with my hand and freeze like a post.
What the hell,
better than all the fangs in the world,
I hadn’t noticed in my mad pace:
from under my jacket
fanning behind me a giant tail,
huge and canine.

What to do now?
One hollered and a crowd grew.
A second merged, then a third, and a fourth.
They trampled an old woman.
She, crossing herself, shouted something about the devil.

And when my face stiffened with broom-like mustaches,
a mob piled up,
tremendous,
furious,
I got down on all fours
and began to bark.

1915

 

HEY!

Wet through, as though it had been licked,
the crowd.
The soured air fans with its mildew.
Hey!
Russia,
couldn’t you show us
something fresher?

Blessed is he who even just once could,
even with eyes closed,
forget you,
unneeded, like a head cold,
and sober,
like mineral water.

You are all so dull, as though
the entire universe does not contain a Capri.
But Capri exists.
From the shinning of blooms
the whole island is like a woman in a pink bonnet.

Look at you, you think you’re all that,
and I –
see how crude and brutal my hand is.
Time past, in jousts,
Time past, in battles
I might have been the most skillful of marauders.

Race like trains toward shores, and the shore
forget, our bodies rocked on steamships.
We will discover a score of Americas.
In uncharted antipodes loaf a vacation.

What a blast, having inflicted a great blow,
to look around, spreading your feet wide.
And the enemy, where his ancestors are,
there
he’s been sent to hell by the logic of the sword.

And after, in the fire of gilded ballrooms,
having forgotten the habit of sleep
spend the whole night through,
your eyes
buried in the yellow-orbed cognac.

And finally, bristling like a hedgehog,
from a hangover coming to in the morning,
threaten your unfaithful lover you’ll kill her
and discard the corpse in the sea.

Tear off the nonsense of jackets and cuffs,
color the starched breasts like camouflaged armor,
crank the handle of the table knife,
and we’ll all be, if even for a day, Spaniards.

So that all, forgetting our northerly minds,
fall in love, brawl, worry.
Hey!
Man,
call out the earth
herself for a dance!

Take it in and sew the sky anew,
invent new stars and strew them,
so that, scratching the roofs in a frenzy,
into the sky clamber the souls of artists.

1916

 

—-

The grudgingly respectful words of Marina Tsetaeva sum up well Vladimir Mayakovsky’s life and work: “A rebel among poets; a poet among rebels.” Having lost his father at an early age, Mayakovsky (1893-1930) moved with his family in 1906 from Baghdati, Georgia, where he was born, to Moscow.  He began to compose poetry following one of his arrests for political activity, during a period of solitary confinement in 1909. (His Marxist education had begun well before his formal one ended at age 15, when his mother could no longer pay the school fees.) The 1912 Futurist publication A Slap in the Face of Public Taste contained Mayakovsky’s first published poems, along with the influential manifesto of that name. Mayakovsky, along with his mentor and so-called “father of Russian Futurism,” David Burlyuk, were expelled from the Moscow Art School in 1914 for their political activities. As a trained visual artist, Mayakovsky made significant contributions to theater, cinema, and particularly to early Soviet propaganda poster art and as editor of the Constructivist journalLEF.Mayakovsky’s final work, his famous suicide note: “The love boat has smashed up against the rocks of life.”

Alex Cigale’s poems have appeared in Colorado, Green Mountains, North American, Tampa, and The Literary Reviews, Asymptote, Drunken Boat, and McSweeney’s. His translations from the Russian can be found in Ancora Imparo, Cimarron Review, Literary Imagination, Modern Poetry in Translation, PEN America, Brooklyn Rail InTranslation, The Manhattan, St. Ann’s, and Washington Square Reviews. He is currently Assistant Professor at the American University of Central Asia in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan.  Other translations of Mayakovsky by Alex Cigale can be found here and here.

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