Little Animal by Shamshad Abdullaev, translated by Alex Cigale


September, the white-washed paws of the pups, wrinkled, gravelly.
The soft smoke of the trampled foliage doesn’t lie down but is as
a presence in the alleyway covered
with the rude words of boys and soot.
The wind has apparently found us out behind the bakhcha*
Where the little playful animal licked the grass and joined in
The lassitude of the foot path.
The beastie – after a moment – was caught in a leg trap in that second
the burdock blanketed his squeal and his surprise. We ran over.
The whole periphery was concentrated in his slanted, pinkish eyes.
And having sensed us
he yelped – it seemed
that it was our proximity that pierced his back. Soon
his flesh froze in accord with the logs at our feet.
Not we but the event came to possess him transformed for us
Into an indestructible warm volume – the complacence
of the involution of a den, and the autumn evening.

*bakhcha or bakhchi: raised plot of land away from home for growing melons, etc.

Shamshad Abdullaev (b. 1957) is the leading poet of the so-called “Fergana School”. Abdullaev has been awarded the Andrei Bely Prize for his poetry (1994), the annual prize of the journal Znamia for his prose writings (1998), and the Russian Prize of the Boris Yeltsin Center (2006; also short-listed in 2014). In the fall of 2015, he was awarded a residency at the American Academy in Rome by the Joseph Brodsky Memorial Fellowship Fund. Also in 2015, he participated in a Russian Poetry in Translation reading at Columbia University’s The Heyman Center for the Humanities. Translations of his other poems by Alex Cigale have appeared in Atlanta Review, Literary Imagination, The Manhattan Review, Modern Poetry in Translation, Plume, The St. Petersburg Review, TriQuarterly, Words Without Borders, and World Literature Today.

Alex Cigale’s own poems in English appear in Colorado Review, The Common Online, and The Literary Review, and his translations of classic and contemporary Russian poetry in Harvard Review Online, Kenyon Review Online, Modern Poetry in Translation, New England Review, PEN America, Plume, TriQuarterly, The Hopkins Review, Two Lines, Words Without Borders, and World Literature in Translation. In 2015, he was awarded an NEA Fellowship in Literary Translation for his work on the poet of the St. Petersburg philological school, Mikhail Eremin, and guest edited the Spring 2015 Russia Issue of the Atlanta Review, writing about it for one week in Best American Poetry. His first full book, Russian Absurd: Daniil Kharms, Selected Writings came out in the Northwestern University Press World Classics series in 2017. He has previously contributed translations of Alexander Ulanov and Gennady Katsov to issues 4 and 7 of Tupelo Quarterly.