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Feature: Back From the USSR
Irina Mashinski

Before a Thunderstorm
Translated from the Russian by the author

The second campaign started at sunset.
History textbook, 2084        

    Gentle Ptolemies
       and hard winged Selevkides
freeze in sharp grass,
          clutch at the feather reed.
Up there: crawling like infantry -
             lilac storm-clouds, over    slate,    past    chimneys.

           Those who've glanced at the sun -
fall off     the soft stems.
Sedge      smells loud,
                      bindweed            silent.
Crowding over the roofs
           - upset, surges: demos.

       The pails threaten
           Rallying riots of branches
by the fence, by the barrel
      (the first rusty leaf
floats in what used to be rain,
      a dead bee on board).
                                                   The wind!

It irons
                       the tiny Tavrida
                            of our sun-burnt lawn.
Siesta      lasts
               in the gutter,
the battle       starts
                       by the tall fence.


In Memoriam

Let me lose my loop, let a forest path fool me, let me be no good.

Let me lose the way to utter, that is, write, Hi, dear – again.

Let me lose the right to call you by that same Armenian name.

Let there be no mail, nor mailman, no common alphabet, no

letters, paper, stamps. Let me dig canals in monsoonal camps,

cut cedars and build pyramids. Let me sink in sand -

last grain of what used to be you


Without Title

The child who lingers behind the door
will see when entering the room towards midnight,
how grown-ups     have fun alone.

He thought… Just this, no more?
Where is magic, where’s     impossible world of mystery
smelling of mom’s perfume
           and those boxes way back in the closet,
the endless holiday?

—They are just eating, drinking, talking so loudly,
red eyes on their red faces and
that’s all.


Originally composed in English by the Author

Senior Housing. Irvington, NJ

            Those who're younger younger, playing bingo,
those older older - dancing tango,
while the corridor all by itself moves toward
the elevator with no final flight.

            Stop - those revolving won't all stop together
as they would want. As we would, too, I gather.
But – look, no, seriously, I'm no coward
—I just don't like this fluorescent light.

            I mean that those ticked off and ever grumpy
perhaps won't notice how the space is lumpy
and orbit bumpy, and more space gets vacant,
balloons are lighter, and the rent is low.

            All talking stops. We just repeat verbatim.
(Remember - soul? It sounds like Art Tatum,
Body&Soul). But hawks are going vegan
and they descend unusually slow.

            I love them, too, look up at them, unfolding
unearthly plumage, wings of an unseen molding,
those walking, sitting, leaking, napping, snooping,
those chewing tasteless gossip, hard to grasp.

            40-watt bulb swings, like some hallway prefect –
while present quickly turns into past perfect,
and perfect weather westward rolls, unopened
to that unbearably    shining     shining clasp.


the       news.
north jersey,      end of january,      5 am, 36°F

woken up
heavy thrust
a cloud of fine dust
runs up our window


of a newspaper
right outside the wall
at 5

go back to sleep
let it rot in the earth’s crease
between the crumbling plinth and the old gutter
read only by


Spring in the Garden. Demolition in Beijing

                   The little courtyard in the center of the hutong –
– a wrinkled walnut shell. A visitor would see the shade of the gingko tree branches on the north wall;

                         on two benches over an ivory chess box     old Mr. Wang and Mr Li
        – like the two slopes of a false mountain in the center of the garden. The shade moves over the clouded jade pond.

                     The limestone rock brought all the way from Lake Tai,
weathered out, covered
           with smaragdine moss on the south side and silver lichens on the north.

Two canaries swing their cage and flash
                          between the leaves like sun and shade,
while outside,

the wrecking dummy swings out
and descends in a
slow calculated fall.

Two trees in the middle:
     the winter plum and weeping willow, whose long leaves look
like old men's fingers; Mr Li's embroidered sleeves with golden silk thread –

                     elaborate petals,
                               leaves, and even little eternity eights, suddenly pausing where
the old thread is missing, ripped.

                            Mr.Wang 's blind fingers touch the ivory chariot and slightly push it forward, to the big river; Mr Li
smiles at his horse, turns the hour-glass over, looks up at Mr.Wang.



Irina MashinskiIrina Mashinski is a bilingual poet and translator, the author of seven books of poetry and a book of translations. Her work has been or will shortly be published in Poetry International, Fulcrum, An Anthology of Contemporary Russian Women Poets, Stranger at Home: American Poetry with an Accent, The London Magazine, The Prague Revue, and other magazines and anthologies. Ms.Mashinski’s poetry has been translated into Serbian, Italian, English, Spanish, and French. Her most recent Russian book of poems is Volk (Wolf, Selected Poems) from New Observer Review Publishing House, Moscow (2009). The winner of several literary awards, including First prizes at Russian America (2001) and Maximilian Voloshin (2003), she is the co-founder and co-editor (with Oleg Woolf) of Cardinal Points, published in both English and Russian, as well as of the STOSVET publishing house, and serves on the editorial board for the NYC-based translation project “Ars-Interpres.” Ms. Mashinski graduated from Lomonosov Moscow University where she studied Physical Geography and Paleoclimatology at the M.S. and PH.D. levels. She holds an MFA in Poetry and Poetics from New England College. In the US, she has taught Mathematics, Science, Meteorology, Russian History, and The History of European Culture in high schools, colleges, and universities of New York and New Jersey.


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