Speaking In Tongues
Guided by Voices

Raphael Levchin


Translated by Prof. Gerald Janecek
Dept. of Russian and Eastern Studies
University of Kentucky

The bad esthetics of the postmodern
would deform anyone's nerves,
and, rustling with verb rhymes,
I will not weep, because tears
are entirely in the same arealia as fears...
Do not avert your face, halt, soul!
Look up, look up: the faucet there is dripping --
isn't this life? at a moment when the glass is half-full --
well, let's suppose I made it up!
and suddenly a spoon falls to the floor --
a sign a woman guest will come... what, I don't know it?
and not even from far awya.
I read Flaubert, haven't read Tolstoi...
and so I'm imitating Kabakov?
and who's he imitating? probably an alphabet book
in which Dick and Jane see Lot run.
Who is guilty? What's to be done? Superfluous again.
I particularly was to thank you...
But that was already a self-quotation.
Living by the laws of samizdat,
I did not notice that a war had started.
So if one paints the floor in black,
then sprinkles it all over with salt, will it be -- dirt
or only a kind of composition?
It's only a game of words, by chance, of course.
But slips of the tongue are more successful,
as Doctor Sigmund used to teach,
than all the goal-directed meisi...
I didn't let my art out to the masses
and didn't send it to the avant- or arriere-garde.
I did something. I noticed with interest
that it worked. And neither man nor beast
came to within shooting range of me.
Only an angel, not touching my white tongue,
sat me on a thin rod of honor
like a May Day crown.
Thus symbolism was made into fate:
not for me to see either hearth or battle;
not for me to be either maiden or man.
And these and those will laugh,
and children will look in with disgust...

Kiev, May, 1991


Too many words
in and around me,
too many short lines.
The wax armor doesn't save me,
my tail turns into a flower.
I walk without end,
without face, like you, too,
but our tails don't get mixed up
for anything.
And around -- an eye socket through prison bars.

Too much pain have I caused
and have not ceased to cause,
too long have I begged
that I be accused
by the One who knew not how to accuse.

Too many words, too much sleep,
and the country gets up too early from shame.
They don't manage to watch this internal film to the end
either the wild Quiris or the Finn.

Too much have I bragged
and exaggerated and been thrilled,
and torn the shirt on my chest.
Too long and tediously have I pitied myself...
The juice of the grass is still on my lips.

The line is short, but life is no longer.
We are lucky, and we meet you in it,
and we burn -- an iron nail in oxygen...
Too many words I've destroyed,
and then found no others.

Chicago, April 1999


i dreamed i was in hell and hell was naked and spare
as the first mandelstam i wandered among the peopleless
trying to speak but hell was deaf and quiet
like the first babilon hell recognized its own
vomitted out those alien to it hardly licking their faces
eyeless they rushed to immerse themselves
again in the funnel crater the raven's creator
so awesomely described but hell the mute the proud
did not accept whoever did not share its tongue
so in the black depth suddenly the word became deed
a parody of that unrepeatable moment
when from chaodarkness the first-object arose
and began to shine in the medium of ungrateful matter
after it came crisis thursday and carbonous
and the demiurge did not yet know when this path
would show him too that it was time to rest
but time was no yet a gloomy rapid
it shined with the freshness of a marriage bed
thus here in that stream coalesced She and You
so as to give time the sacred traits
which i was deprived of in the eternal circulation
in that amphitheater perhaps in the body but without flesh
language did not let me fall to the bottom of the depths
but hell did not release me into that world where You
alone were
and thus i wandered and wandered the mirrored hollow
recreating it and rehalving it
but nearby noctules rushed my transparent
friends here's Nentik here's Nuya
here's Nan who called me a mystical nagwhale
here's Nokstan whom i would hardly recognize
if his half-rotted mouth
did not lengthen the empty word mistacode
and i understood what depends on me
they all must remain here or arise to the heights
i might take them into the world-light i will lead them
into darkness

...and waking up i understood
i'm in hell

Chicago, September 1999

Insomnia. My friend who remained in Moscow
doesn't write, they say, he's involved in politics...

When a crazy centaur was lounging on the grass
from morning on, all day then the grass retained the smell
of the furry body -- from hoofs to sweaty hands
and a tangled mane; and the other beasts avoided
the spot. He's no one's friend...

So to each of us is given according to our faith,
to the tears of his soul -- either the Nobel or
to drown in vomit, copulate with a bird,
eat human flesh or simply propagate nonsense...
so our former leaders find it hard to sleep.
To them is sent a hippocampus; the prodigal son of
the grandson of Leviathan and the step-brother of
he's no one's friend -- alone, always alone...

And this is more capital than capital punishment.

Chicago, December 1999