I recently translated six poems by the Russian poet Ekaterina Khlebnikova into English. They are included in her latest book of poems ‘I think we should just live’, which was published by Hertfordshire Press in 2021. Below is one poem from her collection – ‘I bought everything on your list’.
“I bought everything on your list
Plus I got you your favourite fruits”.
I screw my face up, and then hiss
In a cold voice: “Did I ask you to?”
“So I take it that this picture of beauty
Got out of bed on the wrong side today?”
He asks, as he takes from behind his back a bouquet
Of flowers, presented with irony.
I hold them to my chest; my tears are like rain
Falling down my cheeks.
“Dad, my heart is in so much pain,
I’ve forgotten what it is to be needed”.
He silently takes me into his arms,
And wraps me up in his thick sweater.
On my forehead his lips feel warm:
“I haven’t eaten a thing since breakfast”.
I dash to find for him a clean plate,
Butter to go on yesterday’s bread.
We sit, and then I gaze into space:
“Dad, you know… I wish I was dead”.
“I know”. And then, in a deep, sympathetic voice, he says to me:
– You’ve lost each other.
– And what, exactly, does that mean?
– What it means is he doesn’t love you!
It means that there is no more meaning,
It means the light is growing dim,
He reads you poems but doesn’t feel them,
And puts less thought into his gifts.
“What do you know?!” – I fire back at him
In an angry torrent of mixed-up words.
“That’s just the point: you don’t know a thing!”
And though his tone was loving, his words had hurt.
“Our hearts can be a paradise:
You have it all if you are in love!
But in paradise there is no place for pride.
Daughter, eat some of the fruits I brought”.
Ekaterina Khlebnikova, born in Novosibirsk in 1985, won the Poetry category at the Open Eurasian Literary Festival in Brussels in 2019. Hertfordshire Press publishes English-language books and magazines about Eurasia by authors from the region. You can buy a copy of Ekaterina’s book ‘I think we should just live’ from Discovery Bookshop here.
Jonathan Campion is a writer, a translator from Russian and Ukrainian, and a book editor. He has travelled in Eurasia since 2005. Read about his work here, and contact him here.