"My friends..."
by Alexander Kushner
(translated from Russian by Vladimir Golstein and Jill Pearlman)

  1. My friends— and there were many—
  2. None believed in God in a modish way.
  3. They made Fet, Tiutchev, and Blok their icons.
  4. To cheaters they would say, "Have conscience."
  5. Their voices were restrained and bitter.
  6. They didn’t attend Party meetings,
  7. They weren’t even members.
  8. Censors cut their books,
  9. But the bullet spared them.
  10. Some were arrested and looked glum,
  11. having returned from exile.
  12. But they were happy to greet a flower,
  13. Any flower: daisy, buttercup, clover.
  14. And I— we young were drawn to them—
  15. I was greeted by them.
  16. They were genuine and modest.
  17. Surplus words, like "spirituality,”
  18. Never adorned their speech.
  19. And death— yes, death,
  20. Well, they were ready for it.
  21. They greeted it with silence, not fear.
Packingtown Review – Vol.14, Fall 2020

Alexander Kushner is one of the finest St. Petersburg poets, born in the city, known then as Leningrad, in 1936. From 1966, he published about fifteen collections of his poetry and two books of his essays. Josef Brodsky called Kushner “one of the best lyrical poets of the twentieth century.” Two collections of Kushner's poetry have been translated in English and published by Farrar, Straus and Giroux.

Vladimir Golstein is the Associate Professor of Slavic Studies and the Chair of the Department of Slavic Studies at Brown University. He is the author and co-author of books on Mikhail Lermontov, Feodor Dostoevsky and Svetlana Aleksievich, as well as numerous articles that cover all aspects of Russian fiction, poetry, and film.

Jill Pearlman is a poet and a journalist. Her poetry appears in Salamander, Barrow Street, Via Negativa, and elsewhere. With Vladimir Golstein, she translated and published several poems of Marina Tsvetaeva (The Other Shore, Vol. 2, 2011) and Sophia Parnok (Inventory, #3, 2012). Her webiste is jillpearlman.com.

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