In Translation: Two Poems by Nikolaj Reber, trans. Boris Kokotov

Two poems by contemporary Russian poet Nikolaj Reber, translated from the Russian by Boris Kokotov. The original Russian follows the English translation.

Weekend in Babylon

A star jumps off a fishing hook
and, scratching firmament, goes down.
The Moon through an opening in clouds
exhibits her celestial butt.

From point B to point A
a boat moves, zigzagging gently.
An angler forms a crude triangle
with the hypotenuse in his hand.

Evasive vessels cross the sky—
mass-times-speed-squared is in the making.
The moment lasts—it’s so breathtaking
that one would only say: “Oh my!”

At dusk a flock of ducks flies low,
without hustle, without fear,
still steering clear of the tower
that disappeared a long time ago…

I’m ready now to retreat
becoming pleasantly aware:
we are the same as we always were
to taste, to odor, and to creed.

Weekend в Вавилоне

Звезда, плотвой слетев с крючка,
царапнет небо ртутной спицей.
Луна просунет ягодицы
сквозь амбразуру в облаках.

Из пункта В до пункта А
наискосок прочертит катер.
И рыболов застыл как катет
с гипотенузою в руках.

По небу едут корабли
с квадратом скорости на массу.
Мгновенье длится — столь прекрасно —
что с языка слетает «пли»…

Взбивая сумрак взмахом крыл,
нырки буравят твердь бесстрашно,
привычно огибая башню,
чей прах давно уже простыл…

Я удаляюсь—невесом—
отметив с удовлетвореньем,
что мы остались неизменны
на вкус, на запах и на стон.



It would be easier to reconcile with space
if not for limitations like abscissa
and ordinate—that’s what a man, unfazed,
was thinking as he glided in a bliss of
effortless motion, sweeping some courtyard
with an ancient broom… Meticulous and sturdy
he was in love with life yet stringent in regard
to things that life apparently discarded.

It would be easier to reconcile with time
if not for dates and hours and minutes—
that’s what another man was thinking while
he trudged around a cemetery. Grave digging
was certainly his trade, moreover—craze,
to which deceased were just another party.
He was in love with life—they must be laid to rest
along with other things that life discarded.


Oтcyтcтвиe aбcциcc и opдинaт
кaк cпocoб пpимиpeния c пpocтpaнcтвoм.
Taк дyмaл двopник, тo ecть дyмaл тaк
кaк чyвcтвoвaл, плывя в пpивычнoм тpaнce
c мeтлoй-вecлoм, пyгaя гoлyбeй,
дoбившиcь oптимaльнoгo cкoльжeнья…
Oн жизнь любил, oттopгнyтoe eй
cгpeбaя в кyчи мeдлeнным движeньeм.

Oтcyтcтвиe минyт, чacoв и дaт
нac пpимиpит co вpeмeнeм в итoгe.
Taк дyмaлocь мoгильщикy, и тaк
oн чyвcтвoвaл, пepeдвигaя нoги
пo гpaвию клaдбищeнcкиx aллeй –
peкe, oбъeдинившeй пoкoлeнья…
Oн жизнь любил, oттopгнyтoe eй
cпycкaя в ямы мeдлeнным движeньeм.

About the Author

Nikolaj Reber was born in Ryazan, the city in the central part of Russia. He got his education in Moscow Medical Institute and then in Medical Institute of Zurich University. Since 1993 he lives in Switzerland, nearby Zurich, practicing psychiatry and writing poetry in Russian language. He is well-known in the literary circles and on Internet. His poems frequently appear in magazines and almanacs in Russia. He is the author of two poetry books: The shot in the blue (1997) and Weekend in Babylon (2006). He is also co-author of the book Going to downtown (2006).

About the Translator

Boris Kokotov was born in Moscow. Since 1991 he lives in Baltimore. He writes poems and short stories in Russian and English languages. His translations from German Romantics were published in the anthology The Century of Translation in Moscow. His translation of Louise Glück’s “The Wild Iris” was nominated for the best translation of the year 2012 in Russia. His translations of contemporary Russian poets to English can be found in periodicals.

Read work in translation by Boris Kokotov in  Issue 5: In Translation: Poems by Djelal Kuznetsov, trans. Boris Kokotov.

Appears In

Issue 5

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