Victor Kulle (trans. James Manteith)

Lengthy Creation (poetry)

Published in: 26. Non-Return

Victor Alfredovich Kulle (born 1962) is a poet, translator, literary critic and essayist. Author of Russia’s first dissertation on Brodsky’s poetry (1996), a commentary to the Collected Works. Author of the poetry collections Palimpsest (2001) and Everything Seriously (2011), as well as of numerous articles in various periodicals. Member of the Russian PEN Center.
Winner of the Noviy mir magazine prize (2006), the Italian prize “Lerici Pea – Mosca” (2009) and the A.M. Zverev prize from Inostrannaya literatura magazine (2013).
Author of scripts for documentaries on M.V. Lomonosov, A.S. Griboyedov, M.I. Tsvetaeva, V.S. Varshavsky and others.
Translator of the Book of Psalms, and of the poetry of Omar Khayyam, William Shakespeare, John Donne, Czeslaw Milosz, Derek Walcott, Seamus Heaney, Tomas Venclova, Yanka Kupala, Vasyl Symonenko and Boyko Lambovsky. Author of Russian translations of the full body of the poems originally written by Joseph Brodsky in English, and of the complete poetic legacy of Michelangelo Buonarroti.
Compiler of the legendary poetry collection Latin Quarter (1991) and the anthology Philological School (2006). Currently preparing an academic edition of the collected works of Bulat Okudzhava, a volume of Yuri Levitansky’s work for Poet’s Library  and the collected works of Vladimir Uflyand.


* * *


A rhyming form of mumbo jumbo

can’t beat the enveloping darkness.

Living seems to be growing cold,

and by now looks pointless.


Meaning gave way to encoded enigmas,

forthrightness to sharper chitchat.

The word is extinct. The nimble digit

laid poets low as a class.


A venom, both kill and a cure,

your name now deals less agony.

Still, love is a cause of death easier

than life without any.



*   *   *


Examining this home for the insane,

I think: the Bible’s page

is not yet manifest. Lengthy creation,

while we keep living out the Sixth of Days.


In fact, the fruit was never fully bitten,

and that delightful paranoia —

freedom from the Author — merely

a well-planned exodus from Eden.


Indeed, a man’s with God when he’s asleep.

But waking life is easier with templates.

The Lord thinks wholly of creating — the Tempter

claims the commonplace.



*   *   *


The rules of etiquette

suffocate more than regimes,

but living toward the sunset

mostly goes tolerably.


Like an indolent tomcat,

weight the rug, outflung.

Youth is a dream that

is later dreamed lifelong.



Ab ovo


an egg — everything

flatters its figure —

an egg

has no figure


a white négligée

not often shoplifted

no fabergé

was ever more gifted


the mantle is firm

yet due to shatter

perfection forever

explodes from the center


but nature’s blind state

will not let me tell

if a bird or a snake

hides under the shell



*   *   *


An Asian slight-of-hand: rather than running the race,

far better to cloak the soul in the invisible man’s trenchcoat,

then choose a leisurely river’s more fitting bank —

the rest, you might say, goes off with no hitch.


Mainly, people are not at all dumb — just apt to trust flashy words.

Not happy to probe the mechanics as lips perform.

If you focus on corpses of foes floating by on the current,

you’re sure to recognize, someday, your own corpse.






can’t help

but devour.


The people

find power appalling.

The people sense coming upheaval,

democracy’s apparel


soon shed — just stand at the helm

of the former one-sixth of the world —

for a nude emperor’s silk.

In short — indecent exposure.


Steadfast as a tin soldier,

to vindicate this power,

the mortified people recover

and also will learn to devour.


They’ll study preposterous flattery,

scoffing into the corner.

That inglorious rhyme isn’t randomly

inherent in solely our grammar.


Thus all the blame should fall on speech.

No one’s at all to blame for it.

(Yet anyone’s up for subpoenaing

when things need making plain.)


The choice between prison and pauperdom

creeps by with a cover of shouts.

For power, the mute, too, are ominous —

just what are they silent about?


And the next master of puppets

will reign from a smokestack throne

as long as the people have yet to adopt

a pure rhyme for their own.



The Pardoning of Cain


The advocate will end the crowd’s ovation,

fusing subtle empathy and intellect.

The members of the jury pardon Cain…

— He suffered a behavioral affect.


Life spent between the harrow and the harvest,

not uttering a single crosswise word.

And what about the Lord? — why was that sacrifice,

Cain’s grain offering, so lightly spurned


in favor of the flesh of sheep and bullocks

as dearer than the righteous fruits of land?

Is it easy for the eldest son to stomach

the younger, babied, fresh long out of season?


If not for the Lord’s archaic craving

for victims, and displeasure over sheaves —

we would all be faithful vegetarians

like Cain, the primal farmer, used to be.


He Who first desired the scarlet spill

of blood was not a moral paragon.

What’s the death of cocky little Abel,

viewing abbatoirs of speechless tongues?


Cain, unlike his mother — the maestro,

feeder on the fruit of truth and trouble —

planted grain and sweated at the bellows,

making earthly Eden visible.


Branded with the mark, he kept his footing.

Wrathful heaven didn’t knock him down.

He was first on earth to build his city

and to fortify a wall around.


He taught people more than fantasy:

insight doesn’t mean forbidden fruit

or expectations of a higher mercy —

only grinding work in mud and soot.


Then came his descendant — one more genius —

who led the way, with sudden inspiration

to fling gauntlets toward the angel chorus,

fashioning first strings and brass and winds.


Whatever theologians may be writing,

the blameless execution of a brother

became — after the feast of apple-biting —

a true, lasting point of no return.


If there was a Likeness and an Image

in our making, not a kind of play,

our gazes show no guilt, not a twinge —

in our case, no justice can apply.


The thoughts rolled on in an established vein:

everything that bears the name of progress

more or less was handed down from Cain…


The audience considered this with interest…



*   *   *


Christmas Eve. Nearness of mystery,

festivity — everyone fails…

Knee-high, we reach for light trustfully —

the dark womb prevails.


So uphold, with a vertical backbone,

a gradual growth toward the heavens.

True light has no source of emission,

since its source is yourself, within.

Speak Your Mind