Китайская Прачечная (Chinese Laundry) by Yury Kazarnovsky

Here in the half-darkness of a basement
more musty than melancholy,
more soiled than sorrow,
streams of dirty laundry flowed together,
like ailments towards laboratory doors.
Fallen on tablecloth,
a cream-colored cowboy shirt
lies like a leper in sticky jam,
and Li Yu Chan,
with his salivating pencil,
brings the bill
to the sinners and the redeemed.
He’ll tear their flaxen body to pieces.
A storm of shirt –
he’s their ruthless whip!
May the laundry sparkle
once again in its altered appearance!
In the cauldron of farfetched quantity
layers of clothing
toss and turn gravely,
dreams are boiled out of pillowcases,
and a shirt’s confession circles in the steam.
Kerchiefs swim,
cuddled up to them in fear,
socks with holes
are boiling,
and the bleach is laughing like a satyr
at the bed sheets’ sleepy bosom.
Then with a burn in each hair
the laundry is readied
for new torments,
to be beaten in a fever of cleaning
on the steep board of pain.
And another torture has been foretold:
Margo Ivanova –
Yu Chan’s wife,
durable to the touch and in character,
will iron the laundry at a most hellish pace.
Moaning, she bowed
the enormous, sinking suns
of her breasts
that dragged along like a mountain after the iron,
her breasts, that have been tried in labor and desire.
This wife is a delight,
and a child with slanting eyes sucks
a lollipop at the crossroads of the races.
The laundry has been laundered.
The bedbugs aren’t too big.
It’s time for Yu Chan to sleep at last.
He sleeps.
And a created whiteness,
born with difficulty from the sticky ooze,
descends to him in white-snowed dreams,
in the form of childhood, rice, and jasmine.
And the laundry’s snow whirls out of the dark,
out of the darkest of darks. And the first light, and image of purity,
gratefully kisses the parchment of his brow.

by Юрий Александрович Казарновский (Yury Alexandrovich Kazarnovsky)
a.k.a Юрий Алексеевич Казарновский
(1904 – 1960?)
translated by Bradley Jordan

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Additional information: There is little information about Yuri Kazarnovsky online. Even his date of death, somehow, is uncertain it seems. His patronymic is Alexandrovich but apparently, for a long time, it was mistakenly believed to be Alekseevich – hence why sources might choose to forgo mentioning it.

He was born in Rostov-on-Don. As a student, he was a member of a subversive literary circle called Vremennik and was arrested by the Soviet authorities in 1926/1927. He spent the next four years (1928 to 1932) imprisoned in the Solovki prison camp. His poems of camp life were published in the OGPU-run prison journal “Solovetsky Islands“. He also worked on the construction of the White Sea-Baltic Canal. In 1936 he published his only book Stikhi (lit. ‘Poems’).

Soon after, in 1937, he was caught up in Stalin’s purges, and spent four years in the Kolyma gulag. (As this was between 1938-1942 he was there at the same time as Varlam Shalamov who had begun serving a five year sentence in 1937. I don’t think there is any suggestion they ever met during their sentences, if ever at all, but I note it because Shalamov’s work instantly comes to mind when hearing of Kolyma. There are others who wrote of their experiences in Kolyma but Shalamov’s Kolyma Tales is probably the best known account of the gulags there). Kazarnovsky was rehabilitated by the state in 1955 and is believed to have died in 1960.

It is speculated that he was one of the last people to have met the poet Osip Mandelstam, who died in the gulag in 1938. He also worked in the camp in Mariinsk, Siberia. According to Dmitry Likhachev (who may be the source of the inaccurate patronymic due to either mistake or misquotation) Mandelshtam‘s wife, Nadezhda, tried to extract information about her husband from Kazarnovsky but it was in vain. He spent his later years in poverty and addiction, in Tashkent and in Moscow, where he corresponded with a contemporary, the poet Ilya Selvinsky (1899–1968).

Little information about Kazarnovsky’s life has survived. After his work was published in an anthology of poetry by Ogoniok (1989), the scholar D. S. Likhachev stated that he had met the poet while both were incarcerated in the Solovki Gulag from the fall of 1928 to the fall of 1931. However, the Rostov newspaper Komsomolets reported in 1989 that Likhachev was mistaken. Relatives assert that Kazarnovsky was arrested in 1937 and rehabilitated in 1955. The compiler of this anthology met him briefly to express admiration for his only book, Stikhi (Poems) (1934). Kazarnovsky was surprised that anyone knew his poems and seemed distant, as if the hands of death were already embracing him. His poems are filled with stunning, fresh, unforgettable imagery.

Biographical information about Kazarnovsky, p.477, ‘Twentieth Century Russian Poetry’ (1993), compiled by Yevgeny Yevtushenko (ed. Albert C. Todd and Max Hayward) , published by Fourth Estate Limited by arrangement with Doubleday of Bantam Doubleday Dell Publishing Group Inc.

For anyone looking for more of Kazarnovsky‘s poems here are translations by Boris Dralyuk of The Stroll and The Tram.

Beneath is the original Russian version of the poem in Cyrillic.

Китайская Прачечная

Здесь в полумглу подвального жилья,
Душней тоски, заношенней, чем горе,
Стеклись потоки грязного белья,
Как недруги к дверям амбулатории.
Упав на скатерть, кремовый апаш
Лежит в проказе липкого варенья.
И Ли Ю-Чан. слюнявя карандаш,
Подводит счет грехам и искупленьям!
Льняное тело будет он терзать,
Гроза рубах, он беспощадный бич их:
Пускай белье сумеет засверкать
Опять в переиначенных обличьях!
В котле надуманной величины
Пласты белья ворочаются тяжко.
Из наволочек выкинет он сны.
И паром вьется исповедь рубашки.
Плывут платки, прижавшись в страхе к ним,
Кипят носки, заношены до дырок,
И заспанную груду простыни
Высмеивает щелок, как сатира.
Потом с ожогом в каждом волоске
Белье идет на новые мученья,
Чтоб на крутой и ранящей доске
Забиться в лихорадке очищенья.
Затем иная мука суждена:
Его погладит в самом адском такте
Марго Ивановна — Ю-Чанова жена —
Добротная на ощупь и характер.
На жаркий стол она, кряхтя, склонила
Бредущие горой за утюгом
Огромные закатные светила
Грудей, испытанных восторгом и трудом.
Жена отрадна и раскос сынишка,
На перекрестке рас сосущий леденец.
Белье бело, клопы крупны не слишком,
Пора уснуть Ю-Чану, наконец,
Он спит. И созданная белизна,
Рожденная трудом из липкой тины,
К нему исходит в белоснежных снах:
В обличьях детства, риса и жасмина.
И снег белья кружит из темноты.
Из темноты нестирано угарной.
И первый свет, как образ Чистоты,
Пергамент лба целует благодарно.

Laughter Tangled In Thorn by Mike Jenkins

Dressed like a child
for our ritual Sunday afternoon
pilgrimage to the hillside:
your pear-shaped hood,
scarf wound like a snake
and red ski-boots dragged along
like grown-up things worn for a dare.

When I laugh, I don't mean it to hurt.
It is the brother of the laugh
at the end of our laugh-making -
rigid bones melting into blood.

The moor grass has turned
into a frosty yellow, its green
gone deep into hibernation.
We crunch mud, step streams,
in games which strip us of years
like the trees have been
of their leaves. The water
and your green eyes
share the only motion.

You see a red berry
and call it a ladybird.
I think of your city upbringing;
the seasons being passing strangers
through Belfast streets
where you cadged rides from the ice.

When the brook's chatter is snow-fed,
your laughter is tangled in thorn.
You discover an ice sculpture
mounted on a spine of reed,
and call it 'Teeth and Jaws'.
The light of your words
travels through it.

High above Merthyr, mountain lapping mountain.
You are amazed at the rarified sunlight!
When you speak, the numb streets
are startled. We leave the childhood
of the moorland, to grow taller
with a tiredness which is the sister
of when we lie, translucent and still,
on the single spine of the bed.

by Mike Jenkins
from Empire of Smoke

Additional information: Mike Jenkins (born 1953) is a Welsh poet, story writer and novelist writing in English. He taught English at Radyr Comprehensive School in Cardiff for nearly a decade and Penydre High School, Gurnos, Merthyr Tydfil, for some two decades before that. At the end of the 2008–2009 academic year Jenkins took voluntary redundancy. He now writes full-time, capitalising on experiences gleaned from former pupils. He continues to live in Merthyr Tydfil, and has done so for over 30 years. He is also the father of Plaid Cymru politician Bethan Jenkins and journalist Ciaran Jenkins.

The Fair by R. S. Thomas

The idiot goes round and around
With his brother in a bumping car
At the fair. The famous idiot
Smile hangs over the car's edge,
Illuminating nothing. This is mankind
Being taken for a ride by a rich
Relation. The responses are fixed:
Bump, smile; bump, smile. And the current

Is generated by the smooth flow
Of the shillings. This is an orchestra
Of steel with the constant percussion
Of laughter. But where he should be laughing
Too, his features are split open, and look!
Out of the cracks come warm, human tears.


by R. S. Thomas
from H'm (1972)