by Осип Эмильевич Мандельштам (Osip Emilyevich Mandelshtam.)
His surname is commonly latinised as Mandelstam)
translated by Anatoly Liberman
from the poetry collection камен (Stone)
‘This is a hauntingly beautiful lyric, though all the references are wrong; Oliver Twist does not spend a minute in the office, Paul Dombey never deals with his father’s clerks, no one cracks jokes in his presence, no debtor hangs himself in that novel, and the Thames is not Yellow.’
– Anatoly Liberman
Beneath is the original, Russian Cyrillic, version of the poem.
because a stalwart councillor, after too many beers,
slipped on his way to a spaghetti
and skewered himself on the castiron cactus!
‘DESTROY KILLER PLANTS!’ screamed the local press,
but law and order merchants were impressed
by its vicious leaves and bought thousands
to surround the Civic Centre, school and institutions.
Soon the forked flora had spread everywhere
threatening the soles of stray vandals,
so the Council named it ‘Psychodahlia’
and the computer was made into mayor.
by Mike Jenkins
from This House, My Ghetto
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 Sayed née Jenkins MS and journalist Ciaran Jenkins.
Don’t leave the room, don’t blunder, do not go on. If you’re smoking Shipka, what good is the Sun? Outside, all is meaningless, especially – the cry of joy. To the lavatory and back straightaway, old boy.
O, don’t leave the room, don’t call for a cab, my friend. Because Space is a corridor that will end with a meter. And, if your dear, delight expressing, walks inside, kick her out without undressing.
Don’t leave the room; pretend that you have a cold. Four walls and a chair entice like nothing else in the world. Why leave the place that you’ll surely return to late in the night, as you were, only more – mutilated?
O, don’t leave the room. Enchanted, dance bossa nova in shoes worn on bare feet, in a coat draped over your naked body. The hall reeks of ski wax and cabbage. You’ve written a lot; more would be extra baggage.
Don’t leave the room. Let only the room imagine a little what you might look like. And besides, incognito ergo sum, as form itself learned from substance once. Don’t leave the room! Outside, you will not find France.
Don’t be a fool! Be what others weren’t. Remain. Don’t leave the room! Let the furniture have free reign, blend in with wallpaper. Bolt the door, barricade in place with a dresser from chronos, cosmos, eros, virus, race.
In particular this translation note, from the article, where she discusses the choices faced in expressing wordplay successfully to an audience unlikely to be familiar with the original cultural context:
…the original second line says ‘Why should you need the sun (solntse) if you smoke Shipka?’ Both Solntse and Shipka were brands of Bulgarian cigarettes. I decided against attempts along the lines of ‘You read The Guardian, why should you need the sun?’, Brodsky being a Russian chain smoker rather than a British liberal.