Katia Kapovich’s “Cosmopolitan”

The Moldovan-born poet Katia Kapovich (b. 1960) writes beautifully in both Russian and English.  I, for my part, am proud to have made a small contribution to her stash of English-language poems by translating a handful of her masterfully cool Russian originals.  You can find two of my translations, as well as two of Kapovich’s own, in the special issue of Big Bridge dedicated to 21st-century Russian verse — a treasure trove edited by Larissa Shmailo.  And below is a sobering poem in which Kapovich explains her aversion to patriotic spectacles.  My translation first appeared in International Poetry Review (Spring 2014):


When the army marches down the street,
returning from a minor foreign war,
and the dewy eyes of patriots
glow tenderly, without any remorse,
then I bite my lower lip and try
to drive it off my face or keep it hidden –
this smirk, hereditarily awry,
which I noticed on my father as a kid.
My grandfather before him also had
wrinkled his nose with insolent displeasure,
when the typhoid locomotive dragged
him across the map of Central Russia.
There, a red guard entered the green wagon,
raising a revolver, steady, slow,
to his temple – this professor, spy for England.
There, an endless forest caked in snow.
A high forehead and the cool gaze of an aesthete.
I know for certain how he breathed his last:
he yawned, wiped his glasses with some newsprint
and took his time to set them on his nose.


Когда идёт по улице пехота,
вернувшаяся с маленькой войны,
и теплятся глаза у патриота
слезою умиленья без вины,
тогда стою с закушенной губою
и долго не могу согнать с лица
усмешку, по наследственной кривую,
подсмотренную в детстве у отца.
Так до него, разумный обыватель,
мой дед высокомерно морщил нос,
когда его по среднерусской карте
тащил тифозный паровоз.
Там конвоир входил в вагон зелёный,
наган с оттяжкой приставлял к виску
профессора истории, шпиона
английского. Там длинный лес в снегу.
Высокий лоб, холодный взгляд эстета.
Я чётко знаю, как он умирал:
зевнул, протёр очки куском газеты
и долго на нос надевал.



2 thoughts on “Katia Kapovich’s “Cosmopolitan”

    1. Robert, I take the “typhoid locomotive” to be a poetic extension of “typhoid train” — that is, a train full of typhoid sufferers. By hitching the “typhoid” to the “locomotive,” Kapovich broadens the disease’s implications, turning it into a metaphor; she suggests that the whole train — itself a standard metaphor for the Soviet experiment — is “sick” from top to tail. Additionally, since the symptoms of typhus include mental haziness and headache, it makes sense that the illness has gone to the train’s head. (And I’m sure that the echoing “…foz… …voz…” also influenced Kapovich’s choice.)

      Liked by 2 people

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