I have seen the child in the womb,
neither asking to be born
or not to be born, biding its time
without the knowledge of time,
model for the sulptor who would depict
the tranquility that inheres
before thought, or the purity of thought
without language. Its smile forgave
the anachronism of the nomenclature
that would keep it foetal. Its hand
opened delicately as flowers
in innocency's grave.
Was its part written? I have seen
it waiting breathlessly in the wings
to come forth on to a stage
of soil or concrete, where wings
are a memory only or an aspiration.
by R. S. Thomas
from Mass for Hard Times (1992)
In a beaker sits a beetle,
sits and sucks his tawny leg.
He’s been caught. He has been sentenced,
and for ruth he does not beg.
He casts glances at the sofa,
in his sorrow half-alive;
there he sees the vivisectors,
honing axes, whetting knives.
An efficient young assistant
boils the scalpel on the heater,
at the same time gently whistling
something from the early Beatles.
He can whistle, brainless monkey,
licensed butcher from the dregs!
And the beetle in the beaker
sits and sucks his tawny legs.
He observes the surgeons closely,
and his eyes begin to roll…
He would not have been so frightened
had he known there is a soul.
But we’ve learned from modern scholars
that the soul is not at issue:
fat and kidneys, blood and choler
are the soul’s immortal tissue.
All that makes us hustle-bustle
are some ligaments and muscles.
This is science. Facts are stubborn
but are easy to apply.
And he wrings his arms (the beetle),
he is ready, he will die.
Now the resident approaches,
the MD who cuts and rips;
on the beetle he discovers
what he needs between the ribs.
And he throws and sticks the patient,
as he might have stuck a boar,
then he bares his teeth and, beastlike,
fills the workroom with his roar.
Whereupon the vivisectors
grab the beetle’s carcass, and
some explore his chest with pincers,
some dismember him by hand.
And they kicked him, flicked him, pricked him,
and they tore to death their victim.
Lacerated by that thug,
dies of injuries the bug.
He is cold. His eyes don’t tremble…
Then the brigands stopped their pranks
and retreated, somewhat sobered,
stepping back in serried ranks.
Torture, anguish – all is over.
There is nothing more to lose.
The remaining subsoil waters
from his body slowly ooze.
In a chink, inside the closet,
waits his son and hums a song –
‘Daddy, Daddy, where’re you, Daddy?
He will never see this father,
who could not have travelled farther.
There he stands, his vivisector,
bending over with the lads –
ugly, shaggy, grinning bravely,
with his pincers and his adze.
You elitist, sexist mugger,
scoundrel, scholarly and smug!
Read my lips: this little bugger
is a martyr, not a bug.
Soon the window will be opened
by the coarse, unfeeling guard,
and he’ll find himself, our darling,
on the driveway in the yard.
Near the porch, amid the garbage,
he will not rot (his body hacked,
with his legs all pointed upward)
and await the final act.
Neither rain nor sun will quicken
him who thus unburied lies.
And a chicken – yes, a chicken –
will peck out his beady eyes.
by Николай Макарович Олейников (Nikolay Makarovich Oleynikov)
a.k.a. Nikolai Makarovich Oleinikov
translated by Anatoly Liberman
Nikolay Makarovich Oleynikov ( Никола́й Мака́рович Оле́йников; born 5 August 1898, d. 24 November 1937) was a Russian editor, avant-garde poet and playwright who was arrested and executed by the Soviets for subversive writing. During his writing career, he also used the pen names Makar Svirepy, Nikolai Makarov, Sergey Kravtsov, NI chief engineer of the mausoleums, Kamensky and Peter Shortsighted.
In ‘The Beetle’ Oleynikov continues a fable begun by Captain Lebyadkin the mad poet from Dostoevsky’s The Demons.