Ritual

Dmitry Bykov (pronounced “BEE-kov”), the Russian poet, novelist, essayist, literary critic, and political pundit, writes a weekly “column in verse” for one of Russia’s few surviving press outlets, Novaya Gazeta. His latest is a brilliant commentary on the report about Donald Trump’s alleged activities in Moscow.

I decided to try my hand at translating it. While Bykov writes his poems with no line breaks, like regular text (so that you have to catch on to the scan and rhymes), I thought it would be easier to follow in the traditional verse format.

Who’s ever heard such shocking news before?
Both East and West tremble and chill with dread:
In Moscow, Trump once rounded up some whores
and made them piss into Obama’s bed.
I must confess that I myself felt ill.
Sure, he’s a shark, a demagogue for fools,
a bully — but there must be limits still!
I know a fight’s a fight, but rules are rules!
Just think: here’s Donald, touring Moscow’s streets,
Red Square, the Kremlin — then (yes, picture this one!)
he brings some hookers back to his grand suite,
takes them to bed, and says to them: Start pissing!
Yes, BuzzFeed’s vile, it’s nothing but cheap bait;
he called them failing garbage, and quite rightly —
but who till now in the United States
had an imagination quite so mighty?
Russia Today itself would be no match,
nor NTV, though scandal is their brand.(1)
What fantasy could conjure up a batch
of whores who wet the bed on Trump’s command?
And where! In Moscow, in the land of deep
spiritual bonds, of patriotic pride!
Frowns Michael Moore, and blushes Meryl Streep,
and Stephen King himself is horrified.
In Russia, filthy words make no one blink,
and bedroom mysteries are no big deal;
but even Dmitry Kiselev, I think,
would not have treated us to such a spiel.(2)

Here is a truth that most of us forgot:
However facts and circumstances vary,
a lie is logical. The truth is not.
It’s messy, and illogical, and scary.
And since only an utterly obscene
and filthy mind — a dark and messy stew —
could have concocted such a Boschian scene,
I am inclined to think it must be true.

Yet even if Donald’s caught and takes the fall
(though thankfully, so far, no photo session!),
I’d say this isn’t about sex at all
but only about power and its possession.
The world’s grown dark; enlightenment is dead,
and a lame duck will not surrender power
until such moment as the duckly bed
gets pissed by hookers rented for the hour.

Moscow, of course, is not the only place
for staging this bizarre, surreal drama.
Trump could have found himself some other base,
some other barrack that once housed Obama.
But here we feel old magic in our bones;
it’s in our ancient past, our soil and blood.
Such rituals work in Moscow, here, at home;
in Washington, they’re sure to be a dud.
Yes, we have drunkenness, and crime, and need,
and vast dysfunction in our justice system —
but peaceful power transfer’s guaranteed
once the preceding ruler has been pissed on.

It is our history’s recurring theme.
We must admit, though it’s a bitter cup:
there’s never been in Russia a regime
that wasn’t pissed on when its time was up.

And those who piss are not the ones who starved,
not ones whom that regime oppressed and hurt;
not those who fought, not those who had it hard,
but those who praised it. Prostitutes, in short.

And now, while contemplating this dark deed,
described in detail by a brazen site,
how I can see them — the entire breed
now praising the regime — perform this rite!
God’s wrath will not forever be amiss;
the time will come to save this land someday,
and what an awful lot we’ll have to piss
before our present shame is washed away!
A steady stream will have to be sustained;
this age will pay for all it now adores.
Too big a job even for TV-RAIN! (3)

But, luckily, no shortage here of whores.

Notes

(1) NTV, once a pioneering Russian television channel for independent journalism until its state takeover orchestrated by Vladimir Putin, now specializes in yellow-journalism hit pieces on dissidents and others on the Kremlin’s enemies list.

(2) Dmitry Kiselev, who hosts a weekly “News in Review” show on the Rossiya-1 channel, is one of the Putin regime’s chief propagandists, best known for the statement that Russia is the only power in the world capable of turning the United States to “radioactive ash.”

(3) TV-RAIN (Dozhd) is a cable/Web TV channel that remains, at present, the only TV channel in Russia engaging in independent journalism. It still survives, despite being repeatedly targeted by the government.

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Cathy Young

Cathy Young

Russian-Jewish-American writer. Associate editor, Arc Digital; contributor, Reason, Newsday, The Forward etc. https://www.patreon.com/CathyYoung