Daniil Kharms

Translated from the Russian by Alex Cigale



            Petrov saddles up his horse and declaims, directing himself to the crowd that has gathered around, what would happen if in place of the public gardens they erect an American skyscraper. The crowd seems to agree. Petrov scribbles something into his notebook.  From the throng emerges a man of average height and asks Petrov what it was he jotted down. Petrov answers that it concerns no one but himself. The man of average height pesters him and, after words are exchanged, they come to blows. The crowd allies itself with the man of average height and Petrov is forced to flee for his life by flogging his horse and disappearing around a corner. The crowd, surging with anxiety and having no one to sacrifice, grabs the man of average height and cracks his head open. The decapitated head rolls down the bridge pavement stones and becomes wedged in the sewer drain. The crowd, its lust for violence appeased, disperses.


            Anton Mikhailovich spat, said “akh," spat again, said “akh” again, spat again, again said “akh” and left. Well, God be with him. I’ll tell you about Ilya Pavlovich instead.
            Ilya Pavlovich was born in 1883 in Constantinople. When he was still a little boy he was brought to Petersburg, and here he completed the German School on Kirochnaya Street. Then he served in some sort of a store, then he did something else for a while and, at the outbreak of the revolution, emigrated abroad. Well, God be with him. I will tell you about Anna Ignatievna instead.
            But to tell you about Anna Ignatievna isn’t so simple. First of all, I know practically nothing about her and, second of all, I just fell off the stool and forgot what I was about to say. Better I tell about myself.
            I am tall in height, not stupid, dress colorfully and with taste, don’t drink, don’t patronize horse races, but do like the ladies. And the ladies do not avoid me. In fact they love it when I accompany them. Seraphima Izmailovna has invited me time and again over to her place, and Zinaida Yakovlevna also told me that she is always happy to see me. And with Marina Petrovna I had this amusing episode, which is the one I want to tell you about. The episode is really quite ordinary, but still very amusing, because Marina Petrovna, owing to me, turned completely bald, like a palm. It happened this way: I came over to Marina Petrovna’s and she “boom!” turned bald. That’s it.

9-11 June 1941


            On the table there stood a box.
            The animals approached the box, and started to examine, smell, and lick it.
            And the box suddenly – one, two, three – and popped open.
            And from the box – one, two, three – popped out a snake.
            The animals got scared and ran off.
            Only the hedgehog didn’t get scared and yelled: “Kukareku!”
            No, not that way!  The hedgehog yelled: “Af-afaf!”
            No, not like that either! The hedgehog yelled: “Meow-meow-meow!”
            No, again not like that!  I myself don’t know how.
            Who knows; how do hedgehogs scream?



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Daniil Kharms (1905-1942) was a member of Oberiu, the so-called Russian Absurdist group of poets during the 1920s and 30s. He was not allowed to publish his adult work and survived for a time through his poems for children. Having feigned insanity to avoid arrest and deportation to the Gulag, he starved to death in a psychiatric hospital in 1942, during the Nazi siege of Leningrad, in which another million perished of starvation.

Alex Cigale's other translations can be found in Crossing Centuries: the New Generation in Russian Poetry, Brooklyn Rail InTranslation, Danse Macabre, Elimae, Modern Poetry in Translation, and PEN America. His anthology of Russian Silver Age miniature poems is at OffCourse. His own poems, in English, have appeared in Colorado, Green Mountains, and St. Petersburg reviews, issue 7 of Eleven Eleven, and online in Drunken Boat, H_ngm_n, and McSweeney's.




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