Two poems by Alla Gorbunova, translated from the Russian by Elina Alter


They were supposed to cut out Hmiryov’s appendix,
a worm-shaped tube, 5-7 centimeters in length,
after the anesthesia the chief physicians came to Hmiryov, conjoined twins
Drs. Tear-It-and-Toss-It, and they told him:

Never before and all over again. That was
something… something… What a sight
you have in there, we got so scared we nearly keeled over.
The surgeon made an incision
in the right iliac region, parted the muscles, split the peritoneum,
got, as they say, all up in it
and there, in the abdominal cavity, found an inhabited planet,
clouds floating around it, and we saw through our hand lens

the ships cleaving its oceans, and so then we slit open your belly,
but there was nothing inside it:
no intestines, no stomach, no liver,
as Nurse Sinichkina put it, well-fuck-me-silly,
only in darkest space a system of planets revolving,
and sounding, as Nurse Sinichkina put it, the eternal music,
though to us—a horrific incomprehensible roar,
and we looked for a long time, gathered in the O.R.,
and decided to sew it up, leave it all like it was, so as not to rudely
interfere in the evolution of creation,
we’re sending you home, and we honestly have no idea
what it is that’s hurting you, Hmiryov.

Hmiryov went home and lived as before,
planets circled the sun in the Hmiryovian innards,
ships cleaved the oceans in the Hmiryovian stomach,
ages passed of hope and of torment,
faith in the Holy Spirit, fault with the Holy Spirit,
planes flew high beneath the full-bellied sky,
Odin hanged himself on the world tree,
in the corpses of horses fat worms were teeming,
rivers of blood spilled, people died like flies,
and this pain—whether on earth it was or in heaven,
in space, in the body, inside or out there,
whether it happened here or in the Hmiryovian belly,
whether it happened in waking or dreaming,
where sound the strange speeches of insane physicians,
the pain was there, the appendicitis was not there,
in the open window of the operating room
Hmiryov’s appendix crawls on the Moon
like a cosmic worm.



By the bombed-out missile shafts giant dandelions have grown, tall as a five-year-old child. Out of the boundless grasses their stems rise up, full of bitter milk, they nod and sway the enormous golden orbs of their sentient heads. “Why are we so big?” one dandelion asks another. “Probably because of the radiation,” the other tells him. The sun-bright weave of their open buds conceals a sticky dandelion honey, jelly with a light bitterness, wine. Slowly they transform, changing into a fine flickering web, drawing on the thin celestial netting of their seeds. At night, they don’t fold up their flowers, don’t go to sleep as their kind used to do, but glow, like huge flowery moons. Gradually, in June, the dandelions lose their minds: all their reason goes into their seeds, and the seeds are blown off by the wind, and with each flown white-silver puff, a dandelion loses a part of its soul. Many of them stand there for some time half-mad, others—still only a quarter crazy, but sooner or later all the seeds have flown and the dandelion loses what’s left of its soul and reason. You could say that now it has become a plant. Or that it has serious diminished motivation syndrome. With no expression whatever, their deserted centers gaze into the sky—heads pocked with little dots, to which the seeds had clung so loosely. Well then, they may have lost themselves, but they’ve succeeded in scattering their soul over the fields and grasses. Flown in thousands of puffs, their souls will find themselves new shelter on the earth, their countless children will rise as furious suns, full of honey and wine, and they will inherit the earth.


Alla Gorbunova & Elina Alter