Poems by Julia Nemirovskaya

Boris Dralyuk


Папа оставил мне лицо,
И всё, что было его.
Зеркало буду носить с собой,
В зеркале он живой. 

Папа оставил мне мой дом,
И всё, что в доме моём.
В дом свой зайду я на полчаса –
Бьётся в окно оса. 

В день рожденья его посидим,
Молча попьём вино.
Слово жить – значит быть живым.
Необязательно мной.


My father left me his face
and all that was his to give.
I’ll carry this mirror always –
in it, father still lives. 

My father left me my home
and everything it contains.
I enter for half an hour –
a wasp beats against the panes. 

On his birthday we’ll sit a while,
silently drinking wine.
To live means a life being lived –
not necessarily mine.


45 лет

Мне снилось в юности, что я
Лет в сорок пять умру
А я жива.
И это значит кто-то смерть мою забрал
И умер за меня
Перебираю имена.
Володя Митлин, ты?
И горячо
Мне сразу сделалось, и нежность, и вина,
И страх пустого дня.


In youth I dreamed that I
would die at 45
yet I am still alive.
So someone else is dead
whom death took in my stead.
I pick over the names.
Volodya…  Could it be?
I feel a rush of heat
and tenderness and shame –
fear of an empty day.


Караван машин ползёт всё выше и выше
фары их золотые волокна
Дома брошены нет стен нет крыш
рамы пустые окна 

Стояло лето был лес но пейзаж сбежал
ему стало странно и тесно тесно
стёкла слёзы окон выбил пожар пожар
веки вспыхнули занавески 

Окна хотят удержать в памяти мысли
но умещается только немного дыма
Время состарилось время молчит повисло
воздух недвижен вещи кричат роди меня 

A caravan of cars crawls crawls
each headlight a golden thread
Abandoned homes no roofs no walls
window frames vacant dead 

Summer dwelled in the woods but
the landscape felt cramped and fled
fire knocked glassy tears from windows
curtain-eyelids flashed fiery red 

Windows wish to hold on to their thoughts
but only have room enough
for some smoke time grows old silent stops
in still air things cry give me birth

The art of translation, like any deeply engaged act of reading, is partly a matter of mirroring. We often see, in the texts that mean most to us, not only a record of their authors’ experiences but also a reflection of our own. The textual mirror, of course, is a funhouse one, even when the image it shows is as serious as sin. No matter how honest it remains to its inspiration, all art is artifice. The author shapes the image in order to achieve the ideal effect, and we, in our turn, are shaped by that effect. We look into the text, see a version of ourselves, and walk away changed.

The moment I first encountered the poems of Julia Nemirovskaya, I felt I had acquired a magical mirror – a mirror that promised to reveal, with striking clarity, traits of my own personality that I had barely glimpsed before. I saw a version of myself in her lyrics and heard a version of my voice; but the self was brighter and better, the voice gentler yet surer than the ones I was used to.

After nearly a decade of living with Julia’s poems, I have come to appreciate the degree to which the process of translating them has helped me become that better self and find that surer voice – at least on the page. I have worked to mirror her Russian mirrors in English, doubling the reflection. Standing between these reflective surfaces – the originals and the translations – I feel I am able to examine myself from all sides in an eternal, infinite space of reflection. That space is the domain of poetry, in which Julia dwells more naturally than just about anyone I know. I will forever be grateful to her for welcoming me into it.

The poems above have all served me as mirrors, and I hope my translations will do the same for other readers. The first, titled “Mirror”, moves me to reflect on my relationship with my father, who died many years ago; the second, “45”, helps me reckon with my own existential guilt at midlife; and the third, which has no title, lends words to my inchoate distress at the fires that raged up and down the West Coast of the United States – from the forests near my home in Southern California to those in Oregon, near Julia’s.

Boris Dralyuk

Boris Dralyuk is the author of My Hollywood and Other Poems (2022), editor of 1917: Stories and Poems from the Russian Revolution (2016), co-editor (with Robert Chandler and Irina Mashinski) of The Penguin Book of Russian Poetry (2015), and translator of volumes by Isaac Babel, Andrey Kurkov, Maxim Osipov, Leo Tolstoy, Mikhail Zoshchenko, and other authors. He is the former editor in chief of the Los Angeles Review of Books, and his poems, translations, and essays have appeared in The New York Review of Books, the Times Literary Supplement, The New Yorker, Granta, and elsewhere. He teaches courses in literature and creative writing at the University of Tulsa.

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