TIMUR KIBIROV from Romances of the Cheryomushki District (translation by Jamie Olson)

Translator’s note: Timur Kibirov, among the most influential of contemporary Russian poets, was born in 1955 and began publishing his poems in the 1980s. An Ossetian by birth, he is the author of more than twenty poetry collections, including When Lenin Was a Little Boy (1995), Amour, exil (2000), and In the Margins of “A Shropshire Lad” (2007). In the late Soviet period, Kibirov was closely associated with underground poets like Lev Rubinstein, Dmitri Prigov, and Sergey Gandlevsky, and critics identify his work with postmodernism and conceptualism. His poems often feature playful reinterpretations of classic texts, including ancient myths, canonical literary works, Soviet ideology, and even scripture. In a recent interview, Kibirov said, “The only thing that a poet needs to do is write good poems. What this means, I can’t begin to judge; no one can know this, there are no criteria . . .  And whether a poet uses Old Church Slavonic or the current slang is simply a matter of technique.”

from the cycle “Romances of the Cheryomushki District”

On valor, on heroism, on the glory
of the Communist Party on the bitter earth,
on Ligachev and Okudzhava,
on the poplar that rustles in the mist.

On the poplar by my window, on you and
your warm body, on the poplar right here,
on how we’ve barely left the cradle,
the grave awaits, and nothing is clear.

On what else? On rough Afghani days,
on Schiller, on the River Filka, on love,
on the poplar, on jokes told by Petrosyan,
on jocks, on the Savior on the Spilt Blood.

On the poplar, on the poplar, on pain,
on Validol, on the vale of tears,
on sugar shortages, on the salt of the earth,
on the utter destruction that truly may come.

On what else? On Lev Rubinstein,
on Nancy Reagan, on faraway seas,
on youth, on the cheap port we drank—
yes, on port! On kiosks selling beer,

the ones disappearing, like my mind,
like everything, rushing toward oblivion.
On the poplar. On trans-Siberian trains.
On the Communist Party. On the poplar.

On the poplar, on the poplar, on the blue
evening poplar in the window right here—
in the forgotten room, with the drapes
wide open. On time. When nothing is clear.



О доблести, о подвигах, о славе
КПСС на горестной земле,
о Лигачеве иль об Окуджаве,
о тополе, лепечущем во мгле.

O тополе в окне моем, о теле,
тепле твоем, о тополе в окне,
о том, что мы едва не с колыбели,
и в гроб сходя, и непонятно мне.

О чем еще? О бурных днях Афгана,
о Шиллере, о Фильке, о любви,
о тополе, о шутках Петросяна,
о люберах, о Спасе на крови.

O тополе, о тополе, о боли,
о валидоле, о юдоли слез,
о перебоях с сахаром, о соли
земной, о полной гибели всерьез.

О чем еще? О Левке Рубинштейне,
о Нэнси Рейган, о чужих морях,
о юности, о выпитом портвейне,
да, о портвейне! О пивных ларьках,

исчезнувших, как исчезает память,
как все, клубясь, идет в небытие.
O тополе. О БАМе. О Программе
КПСС. О тополе в окне.

О тополе, о тополе, о синем
вечернем тополе в оставленном окне,
в забытой комнате, в распахнутых гардинах,
о времени. И непонятно мне.


Timur Kibirov has won many honors, including the “Anti-Booker” award (1997), a Joseph Brodsky Memorial Fellowship at the American Academy in Rome (2000), and Russia’s prestigious “Poet” prize (2008). His work has been translated into English, German, and Italian. He lives in Moscow.

Jamie Olson chairs the English Department at Saint Martin’s University, a small Benedictine institution in Lacey, Washington. A native of northern Minnesota, he received his B.A. in English from the College of St. Scholastica in Duluth and his Ph.D. from the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, where he specialized in modern poetry. His essays and translations from Russian have recently appeared in America Magazine, Translation Review, and 100 Poems about Moscow: An Anthology. Last year, he received an NEA Translation Fellowship to support his work translating Timur Kibirov. Jamie lives with his wife and daughter in Olympia.

Cover photo by Sofiya Levchenko