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Feature: Back From the USSR
Alex Cigale

Apologia for a New Sadism

                        After Bruno Schultz

“My father was inexhaustible in his glorification of that astonishing element.... There is no such thing as dead matter—he lectured—lifelessness is merely an appearance, behind which unfamiliar forms of life lie concealed. The range of these forms is endless, their shades and nuances inexhaustible. The Demiurgus was in possession of valuable and interesting creative recipes. Thanks to these, he called a multitude of generations into being, regenerating upon their own strength. Who can tell whether those recipes will ever be repeated? But it does not matter; even should those classical methods of creation prove inaccessible, once and for all, there remain ... a whole host of heretical and illicit methods.” (Translated by John Curran Davis).

The wonderful mill into whose hoppers
the bran of the empty hours was poured:
defending single-handedly the lost cause

of poetry at every pause in conversation
my father changed the subject to the world
of inanimate objects abounding with rubble.

Have you heard at night their terrible howls?
the dolls locked away inside their houses
small clenched fists hammering in despair

against the walls of their decorous prisons,
his cunning look eerily boring into his
interlocutors, his unshaved, disheveled face

smoothing out vibrations on tense features.
Matter does not know how to take a joke.
It is full of tragic solemnity.

The painfully muted, unliberated suffering,
the tyrannous license with which life assails
a poor, defenseless, piece of beveled wood.

His eyes blazed in a whirlpool of wrinkles,
beard bristling strangely, his gestures slowed
like a droid's that's jammed and ground to a halt.

Paltry, shabby, feeble, rag-doll ungainliness,
behind every gesture of ponderous exertion,
inertia, the malice of objects transposed into

the psychic realm. Generatio aequivoca,
vague enervation of beings only half organic,
a sort of pseudo-vegetation or pseudo-fauna –

without internal structure, products of
the imitative tendency of matter which,
endowed with memory, out of comfort

repeats the habits of once-adopted forms.
The pores of the furniture degenerate,
decompose subject to illicit temptations,

gather a fantastic deposit of savage soil,
blossom-colored, luxuriant with mildew,
a beautiful rash on a pockmarked surface.

With downcast eyes, in extraordinary
numbness, incarnate misapprehensions
of sad sad parodies, my sweet sweet ladies.

We're naught but certain complex colloids
suspended in solutions of table salt
organized into specific congealments;

the range of morphology that matter is
subject to limited, a certain stock of forms
recurs continually on the various tiers of being.

Architraves, arch vaults, pilasters, moldings,
embroiled, manifold turmoil of the streets.
Old apartments are such environments,

saturated with emanations of lives lived
and events, used up atmospheres rich in
the particular ingredients of human dreams.

The wallpaper wandering over distances
—no wonder it amounts to a wilderness—
a menagerie of faraway, perilous reveries.

Queen Darga and the rag-doll, her double,
twined create mankind over again in the
image and semblance of the mannequin.

The furniture and the dolls and the people,
there is lifelessness in their conversation.
The apartment hisses, the wallpaper lesions.

Memory repeats ingredients of adopted prisons,
a whirlpool full of tragedy incarnate....
My father then changed the subject to lists.


Metal Obsession; the Handsome Devil

In the service corps of obsolete devices
this demon’s moniker was “Rusty Old Friend.”
And what a handsome monster he was, placed

viselike over the skull with the loose screw
pointing pitchfork-like at the right temple.
Piercing and tunneling through the forebrain

to the left ear held in a brace on the side,
he was used to inspire fear, to extract from
the pituitary gland the essence of dwarf,

to squeeze the noggin’s liter of brain juice,
as though all implements ever invented
had one thing in mind, a yen for torture.

Pick for coring heartworm to be worn over
index finger while painting the town red.
This one’s an animal being beheaded

by stick insects. See for yourself: if you poke
your finger down the maw – just like noodling
for catfish – the clamp comes down, peels the nail.

A trap for unwary thieves who reach carelessly
into the wrong cookie jar. Oowie baby!
You get outta line, I’ll put the kibosh on you.

A pair of partially disabled scissors,
the paralyzed twin blades clipped together
to keep their legs from flopping, flying apart.

Hearing aid for superannuated wood,
a ringer in which a ring within a ring
clamped bell-like onto a flat-planed panel

translates dim vibrations into sound,
a resonator in the shape of an artificial ear.
A miniature guillotine for paring toes

called “the bootjack” transmutes a two-person
job into a tree surgeon’s snip and toggle.
The grim aesthetics of extinct gadgets

that having outgrown their utility still
retain the form that had followed function
give me knipshits. I’m farklemt, kerfuffle.


On the Theory of the Leisure Classes

                        After Apollinaire


Maraudery ranges over the Badlands and Bad Hours
The valuer who does not demand the fruits of labor
But whom the sands inflame when you are in exile
The plural barbaric island and Bonn pardons him


I confess the vale of fruits dies the fruit murky
But I am not in exile ‘cause my veins are similar
Sanchez who attends the moiety’s tortures
Ingests the renditions that obsequy Jewish will


Jesus of acumen disperses come Aphrodite
Docile sands endure the bonds of suffrage
The voices of the sages fan Socratic jests
You speak of love as of a mangy oracle


Marauders range over the Bad Life and Malady
Your father’s foot a sphinx who mothered night
The charming leers succinct in the Cyclades
Feint auroras famish the meat that wills the fruit


The Moors that possess the fruit’s insults directly
Quit the voice to ligature Mammon’s vice inanely
Pusillanimous neural infants' puberty and adultery
Under the pretext of sin decimate night’s amount


Ill I await the fruit that rends the comely dames
At the amends of pomp that deafen Jean Cheyenne
Watered Jordan's marine jealousy mucks the rams
The etymon's Punic cutting upends the sepulcher


The citron's color dwells the Savior ain’t a fraud
Pedant Parmi flowers less the citroniers tawdry
The lures of Lesbos beckon blessed voice grenades
And prostitutes' laughing the state fondled bawdy


Ill I enter the dance sales of frescoes’ key figures
Let incest’s solitary nocturne dance the news
Assiduously labored murals weird voice ligatures
A Son who designates death in a Lydian noose


The languorous autos of horse-feigned autumn
Convivially sentient tanks that couples demand
A catered entourage velure jests and tea pardons
Recoil aboard the sale pews the pain of ferment


Aaron's dead fruits turn verse words motley lyric
Implicate the noise of the bestial age of heroes
Illest plus noble kill a paean to the Pythagorique
A daughter of vipers who mauls the Tarot bulls


Oarless homes I am the death masks of the theater
Pair irony's views on cue to serve the plate of fevers
The barbaric poet a crappy loser at his source
A donkey's ass who wins the grace events of scythe


The pisseurs of barbarous waters coif the bandoleers
Revenants of Euphrates allure regnant chastisements
Parliament entering the ox language of the Chaldees
The precise forest ox a gem stone that we parse


Voiceless vases' songs plait humid flowers of morality
Vatic errors credulous en route a victims' umbrage
Key narrative of vivacious alacrity under duress
Meager and magical elude the scrutiny of ferment


May Aaron yet cry a fruit of a Jesus Christian
Turning the sign of signs at the keen of the cross


Seed for the Planting Should Not Have Been Ground

As young wood tempered by constant stressing,
with impurities steel annealed in smelt,
so I have been bent, bade to make amends.

I was the sowing, you were the bearer –
seed for the planting should not have been ground
nor the water we drank filled with sad songs.

To age together rooted in black soil
of labor by day, entwined by night,
the spell of happiness so true and lasting.

I have shed my past, its leavings and loses,
the inward focus, my need to revise
misery, all lies. Love, be my story.

Close off your senses; we who can be borne
out of ourselves will heal the real world.
Where would a word fall except on the wind?

What, then, will make me a better writer?
Joy found out of words, thinking, living right,
writing, sitting in judgment of myself.

The spirit matures. Heave your heart, my wife.
My art is my love I will bring your world.
Earth will remember us both by our works.


Body English; My Life Story

I was having a bad hair day
Shouting until blue in the face
Beating my head against the wall
Ready to bite someone’s head off

I had a bone to pick with life
Thumbing my nose at convention
Bad mouthing all I bared my teeth
The gnawed-upon bone of contention

It cost me an arm and a leg
Giving people the cold shoulder
We didn’t get off on the right foot
Their barefaced lies boggled my mind

Head and shoulders above the rest
Bound hand and foot I busted a gut
Up in arms my back against the wall
With so much bad blood between us

Cocking my head I got cold feet
Armed to the teeth I bit my tongue
Taking body blows I didn’t bat an eye
By a nose whisker the seat of my pants

By the skin of my teeth by word of mouth

Eduard Kulemin
Translated from the Russian by Alex Cigale


Domesticated Heart by Eduard Kulemin
by Eduard Kulemin

Sasha is robust
but his fiddle is middling.
He’s got fuzz on the wizzle that isn’t.
Beneath the fuzz are crumbies,
which is poor also.
Sasha scribbles poems, and that’s totally overboard.
His rootings: Misha, Natasha, and Vladik.
Sasha tousles at Misha’s.
Misha at Natasha’s.
Natasha at Vladik’s.
What else can I tell you that’s similarly nasty.
For example: my cock in her cunt is no novice,
however when we observe a glossy…
that is a luster…
that is a glitter,
I say: “Aum!”
and sense myself at times a piece of shit
in an ice hole, at times an icicle on a stick.
In my time I was as a tank sexy,
now as in a tank on fire.
Feeling the breathing of the carriage,
thinking, “Well already!
Come on – I think – my God!” Well, yeah….
And the upshot – flaccid.
That is, a puddle.
Meaning it could be worse
but that’s for another.
Let’s suppose – luxuriating in her spittle
for what time do I meet the morning.
Where is my ass – her eye.
Where is my heresy – her arrogance.
Unexpectedly I discover that this is all
there is … how can I say it ..
Briefer: Bach!
I am called a mushroom and crawl into odor,
unaware of fording, but the place is marked
with a signpost: wise, generous, eternal….
You are my menstrual possession.



Alex CigaleAlex Cigale's poems have appeared in Colorado, Green Mountains, and St. Petersburg reviews, in Gargoyle, Hanging Loose, Many Mountains Moving, Redactions, Tampa Review, Tar River Poetry, and 32 Poems, and online in Drunken Boat, H_ngm_n, and McSweeney's. His translations from the Russian can be found in Crossing Centuries: the New Generation in Russian Poetry, Brooklyn Rail InTranslation, Modern Poetry in Translation's 3.13 Transplants, and PEN America 12 Correspondences. Two of his translations of early Alexei Tsvetkov poems, three early poems by the Chuvash-Russian Gennady Aygi, and three short fictions of the Russian Absurdist Daniil Kharms are forthcoming respectively in Unsplendid (3.2,) Drunken Boat (13,) and Eleven Eleven (10). He has also just edited a global translation issue of Qarrtsiluni and is on the editorial board of Third Wednesday. Alex was born in Chernovsty, Ukraine and lived in St. Petersburg, Russia between the ages of 2 and 9.


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