cement

a translation collective

Mayakovsky. “I Love”

Mayakovsky – I LOVE
 
 
USUALLY SO
 
Every man is entitled to love,
but what with jobs,
incomes,
and other such things,
the heart’s core grows harder
from day to day.
The heart wears a body,
the body—a shirt.
But even that’s not enough!
Someone—
the idiot!—
inflicted shirt cuffs
and poured starch on the chest.
Aging, people suddenly realize it.
Women smear on makeup.
Men swing their arms like windmills following Müller’s exercise system.
But it’s too late.
The skin multiplies with wrinkles.
Love will flower,
and flower –
and then wither and shrink.
 
 
AS A BOY
 
I was gifted with love in good measure.
From childhood
people
are drilled to labor.
But I
fled to the banks of the Rion
and knocked around there,
not doing a damn thing.
Mama reproached me angrily:
“Wretched boy!”
Papa threatened to belt me.
But I,
living it up with a false three-ruble note,
played Three-card Monte with soldiers under a fence.
Unconstricted by shirt,
unburdened by boots,
I baked in the sultry heat of Kutaisi.
To the sun I turned now my back,
now my belly –
until it ached below my ribs.
The sun was astonished:
“I can barely see him!
Yet he, too,
has a little heart.
He does his little best!
Where
in that
in less than a yard
is there space—
for me,
for the river,
for a hundred miles of rock?!”
 
 
AS A YOUTH
 
Youth has a thousand occupations.
We dull the dullest young minds with grammar.
But I
was thrown out of the fifth grade.
And thus began my tour of Moscow prisons.
In your cushy
little bourgeois world,
you rear little curly-headed lyricists.
What do you find in these poodles?
But I
learned
to love
in the cells of Butyrka.
What do I care about your Boulogne forest?
Or to sigh at the sight of the sea?
In the Funeral Parlor Bureau, they call it,
I
fell in love
with the keyhole of cell 103.
People don’t even look up
when the sun rises or sets.
They ask, “What’s this light worth, if I can’t buy it or sell it?”
But I
would have given all the world
for the yellow spot
leaping on my wall.
 
 
MY UNIVERSITY
 
French language you know.
You divide.
You multiply.
You decline beautifully.
So go on declining!
But tell me one thing—
Can you jam
with a building?
Do you know the language of trams?
The human fledgling
is barely hatched—
and you thrust in its hands
exercise notebooks.
But I learned the alphabet from street signs,
turning pages of iron and tin.
They take the world,
spin it
with fingertips—
and teach you.
It’s all just a puny globe.
But I
learned geography with my ribs—
lying on the earth
on roofless nights.
Painful questions torment your dusty historians:
“Was Barbarossa’s beard really red?”
So what?
You call this dusty trash history—
but I know every story Moscow can tell!
You take Dobroliubov
as a lesson to hate evil—
but the surname resists
and whimpers with pain.
From childhood
I’ve hated the fat ones,
who sell themselves
for lunch every day.
They learned
to sit pretty—
to make ladies smile,
and thoughts rattle in their heads like coins.
But I
talked
only with buildings.
Water towers told me secrets
and roofs caught every word I threw
in their latticed window ears.
And after
they babbled
about the night
and each other night
with weathercock tongues.
 
 
ADULTHOOD
 
Adults are busy.
Their pockets are full of rubles.
Love?
Please!
Maybe for a hundred rubles.
But I,
homeless
thrust fists
into rags
into my pockets
and hung around, sharp-eyed.
Night.
You wear your best dress.
You rest your soul with wives, with widows.
I
gasped in Moscow’s embraces,
choked in the ring of endless Sadovaya Road.
Into hearts,
into wee hours
mistresses tick.
Ecstatic partners on the bed of love.
I caught
The wild heartbeat of capitals,
lying around like Passion Square.
Unbuttoned—
my heart nearly outside—
I open myself to sun and to puddle.
Enter with your passions!
Climb in with your loves!
From now on I have no power over my heart.
I know where the heart lives in others.
It is in the breast—as everyone knows!
But in me though
anatomy went mad.
An all-encompassing heart—
booms everywhere.
Oh, how many of them,
how many springtimes,
have in twenty years poured into me, inflamed!
Their burden unspent is just unbearable.
Unbearable not
as in verse,
but literally.
 
 
WHAT HAPPENED
 
More than possible,
more than necessary—
as though
looming with poetic delirium in a dream—
my clot of a heart has grown into a mass:
that mass is love,
that mass is hate.
Under the burden
my legs
strode shakily—
as you know,
I am
well built—
and yet
I trudge on, the appendage of a heart,
hunching the oxlike width of my shoulders.
I swell with the milk of verses
—there’s no pouring it out—
anywhere, it seems—it brims anew.
I am exhausted by lyric—
wet nurse of the world,
hyperbole
archetype of Maupassant.
 
 
I CALL
 
I lifted it up, a strongman,
and carried it, an acrobat.
Like voters summoned for a rally,
like villages
on fire
called by alarm—
I called:
“And here it is!
Look!
Take it!”
When
such a giant was gasping,
not looking—
full of dust,
dirt,
a pile of snow—
the ladies
dashed
from me like rockets:
“We like things smaller,
more like tango, like…”
I can’t carry it—
and I carry it, my burden.
I want to throw it down—
and know
I never will.
The arches of my ribs won’t bear the pressure.
The rib cage creaks with strain.
 
 
YOU
 
You came—
businesslike,
beyond the roar,
behind the height,
glancing,
you saw but a little boy.
You took,
you tore away my heart
and simply
went to play with it—
like a girl with a ball.
And every woman—
as if seeing things—
was astounded, now this lady
now that young girl.
“Love his kind?
But he’ll lunge at you!
She must be an animal-tamer.
She must be from a zoo!”
But I am exultant.
It’s gone—
the yoke!
Forgetting myself in joy,
I galloped,
leaped like a Cherokee wedding:
I felt so joyful
and so light.
 
 
IMPOSSIBLE
 
I cannot do it alone—
I can’t carry the grand piano
(much less—
the treasure chest).
And if not the chest,
if not the piano,
how can I
carry my retrieved heart.
Bankers know:
“We’re rich beyond measure.
There aren’t enough pockets—
we’ll stuff the safe.”
My love
I’ve hidden
in you—
like riches encased in steel—
and I walk around
rejoicing, a Croesus,.
And only
if I want it very badly,
I take out a smile,
a half-smile
and less,
carousing with others
in the middle of the night I’ll spend
fifteen rubles or so of lyric change.
 
 
SO IT IS WITH ME
 
Fleets—they too flow into port.
A train—also races to station.
But I am driven and drawn that much more
towards you
—for I love!
Pushkin’s covetous knight descends
to rummage and delight in his cellar.
So I
return to you, beloved.
This is my heart,
and I delight in it.
Coming home is a joy.
People scrape off their dirt,
shaving and washing.
So I
return to you—
for if
I go to you,
am I not going home?
The earth takes back her creatures.
We return to our destination.
So I
am drawn towards you
relentlessly,
as soon as we part
or don’t see each other.
 
 
CONCLUSION
 
Love can’t be washed away
with quarrels,
or miles.
It is thought-through,
tested,
made sure of.
Raising triumphantly my line-mottled verse,
I vow—
I love
changelessly and truly.
 
 
 

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