IVAN YAKOVLIVICH ANTONOV’S CAREER
This thing had happened still before the revolution.
One merchant woman yawned, and a cuckoo bird flew into her mouth.
The merchant came running to the alarmed calls of his spouse and, immediately realizing what needed to be done, he reacted in the most judicious manner.
As a result of these events, he became very well-known to the populace of the entire town, so that they proceeded to elect him their Senator.
But having served for some four years in the Senate, the unfortunate merchant yawned one evening, and a cuckoo bird flew into his mouth.
The merchant woman came running to the sounds of her alarmed spouse and likewise reacted in the most judicious manner.
The fame of her ingenuity traveled far and wide across the entire district, and the merchant woman was trotted off to the capital to be shown off to the Metropolitan.
Having heard out the merchant woman’s elaborate tale, the Metropolitan yawned, and now, for a third time, a cuckoo bird flew into his open mouth.
Ivan Yakovlich Grigoriev, who came running to the loud calls of the Metropolitan, also proceeded to act in the most judicious manner.
For his valor, Ivan Yakovlich Grigoriev was renamed Ivan Yakovlich Antonov and granted an audience with the Tsar.
And only now it becomes apparent how Ivan Yakovlich Antonov managed to fashion for himself such an impressive career.
ANTON ANTONOVICH SHAVED HIS BEARD …
Anton Antonovich shaved his beard and all his acquaintances ceased to recognize him.
“How could this be?” Anton Antonovich would say. “It is me, Anton Antonovich. Only I shaved my beard.”
“Sure you are,” his acquaintances would say. “Anton Antonovich had a beard and you haven’t got one.”
“I’m telling you, I did have a beard, but I went and shaved it,” Anton Antonovich would say.
“Who hasn’t had a beard at some time in the past!” his acquaintances would say.
“What is going on here,” Anton Antonovich would say, getting annoyed. “So, who am I then, according to you?”
“We don’t know,” the acquaintances would say. “Only you’re not Anton Antonovich”.
Anton Antonovich became flustered and didn’t know what he was supposed to do. He went off to visit the Naskakov’s, but there too he was also met with surprise on their faces and asked: “Who are you here for?”
“It’s you I need, Dear Marusen’ka!” said Anton Antonovich. “Could it be that you don’t recognize me!”
“No,” Marusya Naskakova blurted out, her curiosity aroused. “Wait, was it you I met at Valentina Petrovich’s?”
“What’s with you, Marusya!” Anton Antonovich said. “Please, take a good look at me. Recognize me now?”
“Wait a minute, wait… No, I can’t remember who you are at all,” Marusya said.
“But it’s me! Anton Antonovich!” Anton Antonovich said. “Do you really not know who I am now?”
“I do not,” said Marusya, “you’re just having a good laugh at my expense.”
DANIIL KHARMS (1905–1942) was born Daniil Yuvachev in St Petersburg, to an aristocratic mother and a father who had been a member of the violent populist organisation Narodnaya Volya (People’s Will). A surrealist and absurdist poet, prose writer and dramatist, Kharms was educated in part at the elite Peterschule, where instruction was in German. Kharms was also fluent in English. The pseudonym he adopted in 1924 echoes the Cyrillic transcription of Sherlock Holmes’s surname.
About the Translator:
ALEX CIGALE’s poems and translations have appeared in Colorado, Cimarron Review, Green Mountain Review, Literary Imagination, Modern Poetry in Translation, New England Review, PEN America, Two Lines, and World Literature Today. From 2011 until 2013 he was Assistant Professor at the American University of Central Asia in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan. He is a 2015 NEA Translation Fellow for his work on the poet Mikhail Eremin of the St. Petersburg “philological school” and is currently editing the Spring 2015 Russia Issue of The Atlanta Review.
Cigale’s translation of Kharms’ selected writings Russian Absurd is being published by Northwestern University Press in February 2017
Read more work by Daniil Kharms:
A playlet and fiction in B O D Y
Four poems in B O D Y
Fiction in The New Yorker