Charlie Chaplin
by Osip Mandel’shtam (translated from Russian by Don Mager)

  1. Charlie Chaplin
  2.   		   has left the cinema,
  3. with two flat soles,
  4. harelip,
  5. two eye-holes,
  6. all covered black
  7. and quite genuinely
  8. surprised by power.
  9. Charlie Chaplin —
  10. with harelip,
  11. two flat soles —
  12. a casualty of fate.
  13. Somehow our lives are all wrong —
  14. someone else’s, someone else’s.
  15. With a tin cup
  16. baffled face,
  17. His head
  18. can’t contain it all.
  19. Soot falls,
  20. he cringes at its weight,
  21. And silently
  22. Chaplin says:
  23. “I am nice enough for love
  24. even though he’s the famous one . . .”
  25. And goes down the wide thoroughfare
  26. someone else, someone else.
  27. Charlie Chaplin,
  28. peddling a bike,
  29. Charlie a startled rabbit,
  30. he plays those roles.
  31. The role of a petty king,
  32. wearing rollerskates
  33. But your woman’s —
  34. still blinded, —
  35. So oddly, so oddly
  36. you wander off somewhere else. Why is Chalpin holding a tulip? Why does he look so tenderly to the crowd?
  37. In fact to a crowd
  38. that’s in Moscow.
  39. Charlie, Charlie, —
  40. is all this necessary?
  41. For you of all people
  42. this is the wrong time to limp.
  43. Your kettle —
  44. already an ocean,
  45. As the empty thoroughfare,
  46. despite being in love,
  47. Draws ever closer.
  48. May(?) 1937
Packingtown Review – Vol.12, Fall 2019

Osip Mandel’shtam (1891-1938) was a founding member of the Acmeist movement before the Revolution. In the 1930s he ran afoul of the authorities and was sent to a gulag in Siberia with his wife Nadezhda. They were brought back and banished to “internal exile” in Voronezh where for three years they struggled while he wrote some of his most astonishing poems collected in Voronezh Notebooks, finally published during “Khrushchev thaw” in 1956. In 1938 he was re-sentenced to hard labor and died near Vladivostok.

Don Mager’s nine books include Us Four Plus Four (New Orleans UP), an anthology of translations from eight major Soviet-era poets tracking 85 poems they wrote to the others over 50 years in chronological order. The anthology represents a fascinating conversation in poems. Retired, he has published over 200 poems and translations from German, Czech and Russian. He lives in Charlotte, NC.

  1. Rob Cook
    The Trouble With Being Understood by Storms and Storms of Peoplepoetry