Born in 1972, Maria Stepanova has been a household name in Russian literature and cultural journalism for decades. A new anthology, The Voice Over, edited by Irina Shevelenko, provides a selection from Stepanova’s 10 collections of poetry, translated into English, alongside a few of her essays. Read two of the poems in this new collection below. Get your own copy of the book here.
Me and myself, we’re uneasy, like a lady with her pitbull.
Here I, a many-headed storm, strike this little village.
Here I’m some saber-toothed dino at a peaceful feast.
Better grab me by the and shove me in this drawer:
Like into a chest of drawers—my chest
Between this rib and that one,
Beyond borders of skin, flesh, bone—
Into this inviolable lifetime home.
I relinquish my rights
To one sleeve and the other.
I relinquish my lefts
To doubt, opinion, rage.
I relinquish speech.
I sever myself from shoulders,
Face, coat and bra
For the sake of this vocation—the rib’s.
I want to lie here in your midst,
Like messy hens up in their nests,
Like flat herrings in their tins.
To hammer out your rib cages.
I want to take part in the work
Of leukocytes or electrons,
Shock-worker in the flesh works,
I’ll pack up all the sockets,
Account for the state of the tissue,
Like Tanya from the textile plant,
The whole of her dowry in two braids.
Dole out to you sateen and calico,
For covering over the empty, the
Endless hallways of our body.
Singing along with riddle-songs.
Popping open pores with flair,
Like that champagne bottle from before.
Like dark blood flowing toward the nape.
To concentrate on seeping, shade-like,
Under the skin layer, under the fatty membrane,
Under this nervy, living scrap,
Under that bushel, beyond the wet layers,
Into filaments stratified and hard
Boring through a passage like some tick.
And gently lying down, like something small.
My dear, my little Liberty,
I wanted you—but why?
A tiny boat runs on the sea,
Alone in it I lie.
A teaspoon sits beside a plate,
But nothing’s left to stir.
I’ve done some being around the place,
I will not anymore.
My soul, unmarred, unmarried,
You are all mist and dew,
Homely and unhurried,
Beautiless and subdued—
Where the azure used to sparkle in
There muscular and masculine
Clouds close their solid ranks.
Excerpted from The Voice Over by Maria Stepanova, edited by Irina Shevelenko. Copyright (c) 2021 Columbia University Press. Used by arrangement with the Publisher. All rights reserved.