For the 25th Anniversary of my Arrival in America by Gennady Katsov, translated by Alex Cigale


You end up here, in the country of turkeys,
A person from nowhere, of all other perspectives
Nearest the one with pockets entirely empty,
And closer in kind to the common bison.

Proud owner of dreams in a bed not your own,
With a lexicon out of an alien dictionary,
You, like every hero of the age of discovery,
Are here as in a china shop, a stray elephant.

Prospects beckon but only God knows where and what,
And wandering the island aimlessly for the hundredth time
You parade around with doodly-squat in your pocket,
Abrading your tired eyes against the house facades.

You’re up for jazz, no less than for whisky.
If you fantasize, then it’s for all of Hollywood,
Though you don’t have in your broken English
The store of words should they understand.

You have left all behind – cinematic flock of cranes,
The home fires, the birches’ abyss, the alphabet,
And the Russian bear with his balalaika-mandolin –
Throwing a few back for the road you drain your cup.

The feds and state, though not too hot for comfort,
Were never overly difficult to acclimate to: it
Only meant your time was of no importance
And you the Eternal Jew and not a Yid.

There’s no heaven on earth. Likely, neither overhead.
A zero sum game to trade in forms of government.
But like a slave out of Exodus, from that other place
That had made you and you made the choice to depart,

Like a galley grunt, voiceless, of the former pogroms
Ancestors’ great-grandson, they rotting in their graves;
How fortunate that just so, without hope of returning,
While not in the best of countries, I don’t have to love

Neither its ideals nor its legendary monuments,
Nor its heads, nor its talentless executioners –
I am simply where my fate has carried me
And being a free agent, have no obligations.

Some words apropos of gratitude being in order,
I recite them year to year, for they are numberless –
For the country that released me without spilling blood
And the one that received me, no questions asked.
A long-time Russian print and online (Print Organ, Metro, RUNYweb .com), radio (WMNB) and television (RTN) journalist, observer of both popular and high culture, documentarian of the Russian émigré community in America, Gennady Katsov returned to poetry with a book-length project of ekphrastic poems Slovosphera. Selections from that project were presented in readings at the New York Public Library, Chelsea Art Museum, and Columbia University’s Harriman Center. His newest books are Between Floor and Ceiling and 365 Days Around the Sun. Born in 1956 in Yevpatoria (Crimea), Katsov was one of the organizers of the legendary, unsanctioned, perestroika-era Moscow “Poetry Club” (1986). He immigrated to America in 1989. Alex Cigale’s other translations of his work are in Blue Lyra Review, Cimarron Review, Painters and Poets, and Verse Junkies.
Alex Cigale‘s own English-language poems have appeared in Colorado, Green Mountains, North American, Tampa, and The Literary Reviews, and online in Drunken Boat and McSweeney’s. His translations from the Russian can be found in Cimarron Review, Literary Imagination, Modern Poetry in Translation, New England Review, PEN America, TriQuarterly, Two Lines, and World Literature Today. He is on the editorial boards of Mad Hatters’ Review, Plume, St. Petersburg Review, and Verse Junkies. From 2011 until 2013, he was an Assistant Professor at the American University of Central Asia in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan. He is a 2014-2015 NEA Translation Fellow for his work on Mikhail Eremin and is the editor of the Spring 2015 Russia Issue of the Atlanta Review.