The final print issue of the excellent literary journal The Los Angeles Review, vol. 21 (not to be confused with The Los Angeles Review of Books) carries two poems, in my translation, by Ivan Elagin (1918-1987) and Vladimir Markov (1920-2013), who were associated with the Second Wave of Russian emigration — a group cast adrift during the Second World War. Both Elagin and Markov were children of families torn apart by Stalin’s “Great Terror” in the late 1930s. Their fathers were arrested and executed; Markov’s mother was sent to the Gulag, while Elagin’s was committed to a psychiatric hospital. Both men left the Soviet Union during the war and spent time in DP camps before immigrating to the United States. Elagin earned his PhD from NYU and took a post teaching Russian literature at the University of Pittsburgh. Markov earned his PhD at Berkeley and went on to teach at UCLA, where he established himself as one of his generation’s most perceptive and influential scholars of Russian modernist poetry. Both men were also gifted poets in their own right. As one might expect, many of their lyrics touch on the usual themes — and are touched by the usual moods — of emigration: the sense of displacement, stagnation, and loneliness, the temptations of nostalgia and the threat of oblivion. These two poems — one written in transit, the other in a new home the poet still finds foreign — articulate, quietly but powerfully, the experience of exile.
Мy life slips from my mind —
days, objects, faces, towns.
All I remember now
are rattling, wailing trains.
Look round, nothing has changed:
I’m in third class once more,
with eggshells on the floor…
Seats shine like greasy skin.
Tomorrow is a pond
obscured by scum, while my
whole life lies on my palm,
weblike, in some strange tongue.
My neighbors hang on walls facing my flat,
in heavy frames, behind thick glass:
a woman dressed in plaid sits deep in thought,
a student stoops above his writing desk.
While farther off, two girls, bored and alone,
have pressed their foreheads up against their panes.
A year will pass, I’ll stare out at the same
old page in this, my album made of stone.
Я жизнь свою позабываю —
Дни, вещи, лица, города —
И помню только поезда,
Что мчат, стучат и завывают.
И до сих пор кругом все то же:
С дощечкой «третий класс» купэ,
Где пол в яичной скорлупе…
И лоснятся скамьи, как рожи.
День завтрашний тягучей тиной,
Как пруд, покрыт, лишь на руке,
На непонятном языке, —
Вся жизнь — гравюрой-паутиной.
Напротив, на стене, мои соседи
Висят в тяжёлых рамах под стеклом.
Вот женщина задумчивая в пледе,
А вот студент за письменным столом.
Поодаль две скучающих девицы
Бессмысленно в стекло уткнулись лбом.
И через год мой каменный альбом
Открою я на этой же странице.