Semyon Khanin

Three Poems

do not think he is homeless
he simply lost his keys
and for the past four months he’s been sleeping
in front of a furniture store

you might think he’s uncomfortable
all doubled up like that
in fact he’s an acrobat
and finds this posture handy for dozing

what makes you think he’s dead
so what if he isn’t breathing
what else do you expect from a yoga master
who can hold their breath for years at a time,

almost forever, to be exact

Translated by Anton Tenser, Sasha Spektor, and Daniil Cherkassky

the professor had his quirks
according to the theory he lectured us about
the past, present, and future
are the raw, braised, and fried
the future is the raw, then it gets braised
in the present, and finally fried to doneness
over low heat, from it in time
there remain only cracklings. out of the fried bits
we try to understand what kind of a dish it was
and what ingredients it was cooked from
the professor is long gone, these are different times
the age of the microwave is here, the teflon epoch
has arrived, the era of induction burners, sous-vide culture
and raw diets. slurping smoothies
our reason is bemused. remember how the professor
would pick up a carcinogenic crisp, suck on it
chew it apart, spit it out, and curse

Translated by Kevin M. F. Platt

let me tell you a story from back when I was still a burglar
I plied my trade in the suburbs, cleaned out private residences
one time I wound up with this married couple; they were already sleeping
I was going through the bedroom, they were in this huge bed, him facing up
towards the ceiling and her flopped out in a nightie, and both
were talking in their sleep, so I stand there on my tip toes by the wall and he says:
“I don’t believe you, your words are good for a couple of days, then they
turn into cardboard, lies…” then he wheezed through his nose. She was silent,
then sighed: “woven… right here and here… sitting in our box…”
“no matter,” he seemed to reply, then hollowly “she’s already here,”
and then she began to laugh, for real, in short spurts, but often and piercingly
“don’t you touch me,” her voice trembled, “don’t dare.” He snorted and I was
already getting ready to move on, when he clearly pronounced: “glass,
glass has frozen into the ice, shards, hide… hide me, I can’t…
you’re killing me,” while she was saying at the same time: “there’s no firing pin,
we don’t have any, you might ask a collector…” and with the last word she seemingly
completely ran out of energy. To this episode I owe a handful of silver
jewelry and portcigars. I knew that behind every picture was a safe,
and behind all of the wallpaper were mirrors. It was just like that, dear friends,
just like that, respected gentlemen.

Translated by Kevin M. F. Platt

SEMYON KHANIN is a poet, artist, translator, and editor. He is the author of the books Tol’ko chto (2003), Vplav’ (2013), No ne tem (selected poems, 2017), and others. He is a translator of Latvian and American poetry into Russian, and editor of numerous poetry collections of Russian and Latvian poets. Khanin has authored an anthology Latvian/Russian Poetry. Poems in Russian Written by Latvian Poets (2011) with a critical analysis of the material. His books of poems appeared in Latvian, Czech, Ukrainian, German, Serbian, Georgian, Spanish, Hungarian, Belarusian, Lithuanian, Polish, Croatian, and Italian translations. He is the founding member of the multimedia poetry project Orbita, a creative collective of poets and visual artists whose works create a dialogue between various cultures and genres (including literature, music, video, and photography, among others). He is the author of performances and installations One Face Theatre, Missed Details, Three-Dimensional Poetry, Khaphone etc.

About the translators:

KEVIN M. F. PLATT is a professor of Russian and East European studies at the University of Pennsylvania. He works on Russian and Russophone poetry, history, and memory in Russia and eastern Europe, global Russophone culture, and translates contemporary poetry from Russian and Latvian into English. Among other things, he is the lead translator and editor of Hit Parade: The Orbita Group (Ugly Duckling Presse, 2015) and editor of Global Russian Cultures (University of Wisconsin Press, 2019). His new book, Border Conditions: Russian-Speaking Latvians between World Orders, is forthcoming from Cornell University Press / Northern Illinois University Press in 2023.

ANTON TENSER is a Russian-language poet, translator and linguist. Born in the USSR in 1976, he immigrated to Chicago in 1989. As a linguist, he has authored a number of scholarly works on Romani language and ethnography. His collaborative translations of contemporary Russian and Ukrainian poetry have appeared in Cicada Press, Modern Poetry in Translation, The Brooklyn Rail, Words for War: New Poems from Ukraine (Academic Studies Press) among others. His original poetry regularly appears in various Russian language literary journals and has been translated into English, Latvian and Ukrainian. Tenser lives in Hanover, NH and works as a linguist at Google.

ALEXANDER SPEKTOR is a writer, scholar, and translator, who teaches at University of Georgia. He has published and edited a number of works on Russian literature and literary theory. Together with Anton Tenser and Daniil Cherkasskiy, he is a co-founder of Chicago Translation Workshop, which specializes in collaborative translations of contemporary Russian poetry. His recent study Reader as Accomplice: Narrative Ethics in Dostoevsky and Nabokov was published with Northwestern University Press in 2020. A co-edited and co-translated volume of selected non-fiction by Sigizmund Krzhizhanovsky, Countries that Don’t Exist, is forthcoming in 2022 with Columbia University Press.

DANIIL CHERKASSKIY is a Chicago based immigrant artist, who specializes in reanimating discarded human experience through performance. He is one of the founding members of the Chicago Translation Workshop.