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This young Rembrandt . . .

by Aleksandr Kushner

translated from the Russian by Carol Ueland and Robert Carnevale


This young Rembrandt, with his feline whiskers,
Thinks highly of himself, and of life as well.
Where is the harm in that?—judge for yourself:
Haven’t others been even worse, in younger days?

Is the sun going to rise into the sky tomorrow?
Is life going to conclude with us?—judge for yourself.
It’s a shame, how suspicion grows with the years,
Those eyes burning with trust are so beautiful!

That shade of brown, more precisely, tobacco—
It is hard to make out here who is cat and who mouse.
Not had enough yet, of the gloom, the circumspection?
Play with me, Fate, he begged, a little longer.

So, this buried malevolence keeps surfacing of its own will,
Until you are prepared to give way, to part with life and drag it
Down with you fast as you can into the grave—
But I am ashamed in front of the painter.

No one will ever wear a hat as he does, that’s for sure.
A velvet one, with a soft, fluted brim.
And how can one upbraid him, especially from where we stand,
Knowing how, later, the darkness will thicken?—judge for yourself.

 

Aleksandr Kushner is one of Russia's most celebrated poets. He received the Laureate of the State Prize (successor to the Lenin Prize) from Boris Yeltsin in 1996 and was honored with the Pushkin Prize in the Pushkin bicentennial year. His work has been translated into many languages and he has been featured at conferences and festivals around the world. At home, Kushner's work was limited to small print runs during the Soviet era, but in the early 1990s his collected poems quickly sold out an edition of 100,000 .

Carol Ueland is a frequent contributor to publications and conferences on modern Russian literature. Her earlier translations of Aleksandr Kushner (done with Paul Graves) were collected in Apollo in the Snow (Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, 1991). Robert Carnevale's poems have appeared in The Paris Review, The New Yorker, and other magazines and anthologies. Their work on Kushner's poetry has been supported by a National Endowment for the Arts Literary Translation Fellowship.


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