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.

Return to Cardiff by Dannie Abse

‘Hometown’; well, most admit an affection for a city:
grey, tangled streets I cycled on to school, my first cigarette
in the back lane, and fool, my first botched love affair.
First everything. Faded torments; self-indulgent pity.

The journey to Cardiff seemed less a return than a raid
on mislaid identities. Of course the whole locus smaller:
the mile-wide Taff now a stream, the castle not as in some black
gothic dream, but a decent sprawl, a joker’s toy facade.

Unfocused voices in the wind, associations, clues,
odds and ends, fringes caught, as when, after the doctor quit,
a door opened and I glimpsed the white, enormous face
of my grandfather, suddenly aghast with certain news.

Unable to define anything I can hardly speak,
and still I love the place for what I wanted it to be
as much as for what it unashamedly is
now for me, a city of strangers, alien and bleak.

Unable to communicate I’m easily betrayed,
uneasily diverted by mere sense reflections
like those anchored waterscapes that wander, alter, in the Taff,
hour by hour, as light slants down a different shade.

Illusory, too, that lost, dark playground after rain,
the noise of trams, gunshots in what they once called Tiger Bay.
Only real this smell of ripe, damp earth when the sun comes out,
a mixture of pungencies, half exquisite and half plain.

No sooner than I’d arrived the other Cardiff had gone,
smoke in the memory, these but tinned resemblances,
where the boy I was not and the man I am not
met, hesitated, left double footsteps, then walked on.

By Dannie Abse
from Poems, Golders Green
(1962)

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Additional information: Dannie Abse was born in Cardiff, Wales, to a Jewish family. He was the younger brother of politician and reformer Leo Abse and the eminent psychoanalyst, Wilfred Abse. Unusually for a middle-class Jewish boy, Dannie Abse attended St Illtyd’s College, a working-class Catholic school in Splott.

The River Taff (‘Afon Taf’ in Welsh) is a river in Wales. It rises as two rivers in the Brecon Beacons; the Taf Fechan (little Taff) and the Taf Fawr (great Taff) before becoming one just north of Merthyr Tydfil. Its confluence with the River Severn estuary is in Cardiff. The river supports several species of migratory fish, including salmon, sewin (sea trout), and eel.

Tiger Bay (‘Bae Teigr’ in Welsh) was the local name for an area of Cardiff which covered Butetown and Cardiff Docks. Following the building of the Cardiff Barrage, which dams the tidal rivers, Ely and Taff, to create a body of water, it is referred to as Cardiff Bay. Tiger Bay is Wales’ oldest multi-ethnic community with sailors and workers from over 50 countries settling there in the 1950s.

A Winter Visit by Dannie Abse

Now she’s ninety I walk through the local park
where, too cold, the usual peacocks do not screech
and neighbouring lights come on before it’s dark.

Dare I affirm to her, so agèd and so frail,
that from one pale dot of peacock’s sperm
spring forth all the colours of a peacock’s tail?

I do. But she like the sibyl says, ‘I would die’;
then complains. ‘This winter I’m half dead, son.’
And because it’s true I want to cry.

Yet must not (although only Nothing keeps)
for I inhabit a white coat not a black
even here – and am not qualified to weep.

So I speak of small approximate things,
of how I saw, in the park, four flamingoes
standing, one-legged on ice, heads beneath wings.

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By Dannie Abse
from Welsh Retrospective

(1997)

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Interesting fact: Dannie Abse was born in Cardiff, Wales, to a Jewish family. He was the younger brother of politician and reformer Leo Abse and the eminent psychoanalyst, Wilfred Abse. Unusually for a middle-class Jewish boy, Dannie Abse attended St Illtyd’s College, a working-class Catholic school in Splott.

A Winter Convalescence by Dannie Abse

The coast shrugs, when the camera clicks,

deliberately. The cliffs blur,

and the sun’s mashed in the west.

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It’s sac broken, its egg-mess sticks

on the winter sea, smears it.

The air develops ghosts of soot

that become more evident, minute by minute.

They’re clever. They have no shape.

Things hum.

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Very few oblongs blaze

in the Grand Hotel.

God, how the promenade’s empty.

The pier’s empty too

but for the figure at the far end, shadowy,

hunched with a bending rod.

That one no taller than a thumb.

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It’s strange the way people go smaller

the further they are away. Most of the time

you even forget who died.

But supposing things did not get smaller?

Best to go inside. Best to push

revolving doors to where it’s warmer,

where only a carpet makes you dizzy.

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Inside, things hum.

Inside the insides the corridors wait.

A door opens, a hand comes out,

It’s cut off at the elbow,

it holds a pair of shoes

cut off at the ankles.

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Walk faster. God, someone is breathing,

walk faster. Humankind

cannot bear very much unreality.

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That’s right – lock this door, you clumsy…

Yet things still hum, things still hum.

Who blinks?

Who spies with his little eye

what no-one else has spied?

Best to pull the curtains on the night,

but then certain objects focus near:

the wardrobe with its narrow door,

the bible by the bedside.

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Lie down, easy; lie down.

Who masturbated here?

Who whipped the ceiling? Cracked them?

Things hum.

Two blue, astringent eyes drag down their lids.

The dark comes from the lift-shaft.

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By Dannie Abse

from A Small Desperation (1968)

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Fun for readers: Which Grand Hotel is Abse speaking of in the poem? Answers in the comments.

The Uninvited by Dannie Abse

They came into our lives unasked for.

There was light momentarily, a flicker of wings,

a dance, a voice, and then they went out

again, like a light, leaving us not so much

in darkness, but in a different place

and alone as never before.

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So we have been changed

and our vision no longer what it was,

and our hopes no longer what they were;

so a piece of us has gone out with them also,

a cold dream subtracted without malice,

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the weight of another world added also,

and we did not ask, we did not ask ever

for those who stood smiling

and with flowers before the open door.

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We did not beckon them in, they came in uninvited,

the sunset pouring from their shoulders,

so they walked through us as they would through water,

and we are here, in a different place,

changed and incredibly alone,

and we did not know, we do not know ever.

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by Dannie Abse

from Early Poems