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By Vladimir Mayakovsky, James H. McGavran III
Northwestern University PressCopyright © 2013 Northwestern University Press
All rights reserved.
The Early Years 1912–1916
The crimson and white is wadded up and discarded,
handfuls of ducats thrown into the green,
and into the gathered-round windows' black palms
burning yellow cards have been dealt.
The boulevards and square found it not strange
to see buildings covered in dark-blue togas,
and like yellow wounds, the streetlights fastened
bangles around running pedestrians' legs.
The crowd, a quick and calico cat,
drifted on, squirming, drawn toward doorways;
everyone wanted to drag in at least a bit
of bulk from the wad of outpoured laughter.
When I felt the beckoning paws of a dress,
I rammed a smile right into their eyes; startling
as hammer blows against tin, black men guffawed,
above each brow a painted parrot wing.
The gloomy rain squinted its eyes.
steel cable thoughts,
lightly rest the feet
of rising stars.
But the dying
in crowns of gas,
only made the eye
hurt more to see
the bickering bouquet of boulevard prostitutes.
up from toxic
in a zigzag.
Past the din
the eye is glad
on his crossroads,
and the coffins
cast by the east into one flaming vase.
FROM STREET TO STREET
the iron horses,
out of the windows of buildings running by,
the first cubes have already leapt.
You belfry-necked swans,
stoop in your nooses of streetcar cables!
Up in the sky a giraffe sketch is ready
to color its rusty bangs.
Mottled like a trout
is the son
of the patternless field.
hidden behind clock-tower dials,
from the streetcar's mouth.
We are conquered!
The soul's bodice is unlaced.
Hands burn its body.
Cry all you want,
"This isn't what I meant!"—
are the taut straps
The wind with its thorns
of the chimney
a tuft of smoky fur.
A bald streetlamp
lasciviously strips away
I splattered the pattern of weekdays at once
with color splashed out from a glass;
I showed you, on a dish of aspic,
the slanting cheekbones of the ocean.
Upon the scales of a tin fish
I read the calls of new lips.
And how about you,
play a nocturne
on a flute of drainpipes?
Along the road
of my deep-rutted soul,
harsh phrases' heels
weave madmen's paces.
and in a noose of cloud
the crooked necks
have grown stiff—
alone to cry
for the policemen
on their crossroads.
A Few Words About My Wife
Along the distant beach of unknown seas
walks the moon,
My redheaded mistress.
Behind her equipage,
a throng of constellations, motley-striped, stretches
She's crowned by an automobile garage,
kissed by newspaper kiosks,
and her gown-train's Milky Way, like some blinking errand-boy,
is decked in tinselly sparkles.
What about me?
As I burn, the yoke of my eyebrows delivers
icy buckets drawn from the wells of my eyes.
You hang there draped in lake-silks,
your thighs singing like an amber violin.
Down to the realms of the rooftops' spite
you can't cast your sparkling line.
I'm drowning in boulevards, washed over by the longing of
don't you see, it's your daughter—
in fishnet stockings
outside the cafés!
A Few Words About My Mama
I have a mama on wallpaper of cornflower blue.
Whereas I stroll about in motley peahens;
I torment shaggy daisies, measuring them with my stride.
Evening strikes up a tune on rusty oboes.
I walk up to the window,
that I will again see
a storm cloud
on top of the house.
While in my sick mama's room,
the rustle of the people runs around
from the bed to the empty corner.
it's a bunch of crazy ideas
crawling out from behind the rooftops of Shustov's factory.
And when my forehead, crowned by a felt hat,
is bloodied by the dimming window-frame,
parting the wind's howl with my bass:
If I should take pity
on the vase of your torment,
knocked down by the clouds' dancing heels,
who would caress the golden hands
wrung by the billboard outside Avanzo's windows?"
A Few Words About Me Myself
I like to watch children die.
Have you ever noticed the hazy waves of laughter
breaking behind the proboscis of ennui?
in the reading room of the streets,
have leafed back and forth through the coffin-tome.
with its soaking wet fingers groped
and a broken-down fence,
and with the downpour's drops on the bald-spot of its cupola,
the crazy cathedral galloped off.
I can see that Christ has escaped from his icon—
street-sludge, weeping, kisses
the windblown hem of his tunic.
I shout at the bricks,
I thrust the dagger of frenzied words
into the swollen sky's flesh:
You, at least, take pity and don't torture me!
It's my blood, spilled by you, that flows down this earthly
It's my soul,
like shreds of torn cloud
in a burnt-out sky,
on the rusted cross of the belfry!
You, at least, crippled icon-dauber,
paint my visage
into the freak of the century's image-case!
I am alone, like the one remaining eye
of a man on his way to join the blind!"
A girl shyly wrapped herself up in a swamp
as frog motifs ominously swelled all around;
on the tracks, some sort of reddish figure wavered,
and locomotives in curls passed by in reproach.
On cloud couples, through the sun's caustic fumes,
the fury of a mazurka of wind was engraved,
and here I am—a sultrified July sidewalk,
and a woman throws me cigarette-butt kisses!
Abandon your cities, you stupid people!
Go forth naked in the sun, to pour
drunken wines into your wineskin-breasts
and rain-kisses onto your coal cheeks.
We crawl under the earth's fallen-out palm eyelashes
to poke out the walleyes of deserts,
or on the shriveled lips of canals
to catch dreadnoughts' smiles.
Cool off, spite!
I won't let you lift my wild, decrepit mother
onto the bonfire of blazed constellations.
Road—horn of hell—inebriate the snores of the cargo wagons!
Widen with intoxication the volcanoes' smoking nostrils!
We'll throw molting angels' feathers onto our loved ones' hats,
we'll chop tails for our boas from comets hobbling into space.
THE GIANT HELL OF THE CITY
Windows shattered the giant hell of the city
into minuscule hellikins, suckling with lights.
Automobiles, the red devils, rose up,
blasting their horns right in your ear.
And there, under the billboard for Kerch herring—
a knocked-down old fogey fumbled for his glasses
and burst into tears when, in the evening whirlwind,
a streetcar got a running start and flung up its pupils.
In gaps between skyscrapers, where ore was blazing
and the iron of trains piled up on a manhole—
an airplane gave a brief shout and crashed
where the wounded sun's eye was oozing out.
And only then, wadding up its blanket of streetlamps,
night loved itself out, lewd and drunken,
and behind the suns of streets, somewhere there hobbled,
worthless to everyone, a flabby moon.
An hour from now, your flaccid fat will flow,
man by man, out onto the clean street,
and here I've revealed to you so many boxes of verse,
I—the spendthrift and prodigal of priceless words.
You there, man, you've got cabbage in your mustache
from some half-eaten, unfinished soup somewhere;
you there, woman, your white makeup's so thick,
you peer out like an oyster from a shell of things.
All of you will pile up on the butterfly of the poet's heart,
dirty, in galoshes and without galoshes.
The crowd will go nuts, rubbing against itself,
bristling its little legs, the hundred-headed louse.
And if today I, a crude Hun,
should be disinclined to make faces for you—well, then
I'll burst out laughing and spit with joy,
spit in your faces,
I—the prodigal and spendthrift of priceless words.
THEY DON'T UNDERSTAND ANYTHING
Walked into a barbershop and said, perfectly calm,
"Would you be so kind as to give my ears a trim?"
The smooth-shaven barber immediately bristled,
made a long face, like a pear's.
the words started jumping.
Foul language rushed about from chirp to chirp,
and for a lo-o-o-o-ng time
someone's head kept giggling,
yanked up out of the crowd like an old radish.
IN A MOTORCAR
"What a charming night!"
(pointing at a girl),
is it the same one?"
On the sidewalk someone said:
the tires jumped—
The city suddenly turned inside out.
A drunk climbed on top of some hats.
Billboards gaped wide their fright,
And on top of the hill,
where dark tears were falling,
where the shy city
it suddenly seemed true:
a flabby O
and disgustingly obedient S.
THE FOP'S BLOUSE
I'll sew myself black trousers
from the velvet of my voice.
A yellow blouse from ten feet of sunset.
On the Nevsky Avenue of the world, along its polished lanes,
I'll stroll at the pace of a Don Juan and a fop.
Let the earth cry out, having turned womanish in peace:
"You're on your way to rape green springs!"
I'll cast at the sun, with an impudent grin:
"On the asphalt's smooth surface I enjoy burring my r's!"
Is it not because the sky is blue,
and the earth is my mistress in this festive cleansing,
that I present you with verses, fun as bee-bah-bo,
sharp and necessary, like toothpicks!
All you women who love my meat, and this
girl here, who's looking at me as at a brother,
bespatter me, the poet, with smiles—
I'll sew them with flowers onto my fop's blouse!
After all, if they light up the stars,
does that mean anyone cares?
Does that mean someone wants them to be there?
Does that mean someone calls these little gobs of spit pearls?
in the blizzards of midday dust,
storms in to see God,
fears he's too late,
kisses the veiny hand,
please, there absolutely must be a star—
he'll never endure this starless torture!
walks around anxious
but calm on the outside.
Says to someone:
"You're okay now, right?
After all, if they light up
does that mean anyone cares?
Does that mean it's necessary
that every evening
above the rooftops
at least one star should light up?!
BUT BE THAT AS IT MAY
The street has caved in like the nose of a syphilitic.
The river is pure lechery leaked out in drool.
Having stripped off their skivvies, to the last little leaflet,
the gardens indecently sprawl across June.
I step out on the square,
placing a burnt-out
city block on my head like a red wig.
The people are frightened—dangling from my mouth,
a shout, partly chewed, is still wagging its legs.
But I won't be berated, but I won't be condemned—
like a prophet's, my path will be strewn with flowers.
All these people, the ones with the caved-in noses, know:
I am your poet.
Your Judgment Day scares me about as much as a tavern!
Prostitutes will carry me forth like a sacred relic,
carry me alone through the burning buildings
and show me to God in their own justification.
And God will break down in tears over my little book!
No words—just convulsions stuck together in a wad;
he'll run around the sky with my poems tucked in his armpit,
and, panting for breath, read them to his acquaintances.
In the ears were snippets of a warm ball,
but from the north—more hoary than snow—
a fog with the bloodthirsty face of a cannibal
chewed unsavory people.
A clock hung in the air like crude swearing;
six loomed after five.
And some kind of garbage looked down from the sky,
majestically, like Leo Tolstoy.
MAMA AND THE EVENING KILLED BY THE
Along the black streets, white mothers
spasmodically spread, like brocade on a coffin.
They wept their way into the crowd shouting about the
"Ach, shut their eyes, shut the newspapers' eyes!"
What's that you're mumbling, Mama, to me?
Don't you see—
The air is paved
with stone rumbling under artillery fire!
They just brought in an evening all covered in wounds.
He held on for a long time,
spread too tight,
rough around the edges,
his cloud shoulders broke down;
he burst into tears, the poor guy, on Warsaw's breast.
The stars, on their hankies of dark-blue cotton,
my dear one!"
Excerpted from Selected Poems by Vladimir Mayakovsky, James H. McGavran III. Copyright © 2013 Northwestern University Press. Excerpted by permission of Northwestern University Press.
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