Elena Shvarts

Rubbish Heap translated by Sasha Dugdale
February 25, 2022 Shvarts Elena

Poem by Elena Shvarts translated from Russian by Sasha Dugdale


Rubbish Heap


I haven’t the strength to sing of you, resplendent rubbish heap!
How you lie sprawled at sunset, a matted tousle,
And a black cat in his white bib picks and rips
A tune, like a pianist, in your heavy torso.
In all your rotting mirrors, in their shivers
The tall wormwood grows,
O you, Venice! (even better than Venezia)
And the cat, like a gondolier, mews.
A scrap from a Turkish divan
Lies in lilac clutter
Murmuring to the steppe grass
Of Istanbul, of the hookah.
July’s face trembles in a rotting mirror.
A crow descends slowly on the midden
And watch her stalk, prouder than Sulla
And her claws hold: death or pardon.
See – peach slime, berries’ swollen burst, a loupe
Part of a medallion, a book’s empty cover
You – your leprous pocks, or are they scalds,
A child burnt by boiling soup.
Dionysius torn asunder,
Or pocket mirror to the world.
I am speaking to you, Rubbish Heap,
Stir yourself. Arise. And then, monster,
rasping from your ripped lips. Night outcast,
Stir yourself! Arise! O wondrous tip
Sing of how you lie so long in the sun’s heat,
Your flaming, ripening giant’s brain
Baking, consumed by decay.
Let bloom your great thoughts, sup on rot
like vodka, chew a chicken wing
Stir yourself, most wonderful being, and sing!
O rosa mystica, the gods are listening.


Original and audio recording of “Свалка” (“Rubbish Heap”) may be accessed here.

Elena Shvarts (1948-2010) was one of the outstanding Russian poets of her generation, as well as a prose writer of distinction. Her poems were published in samizdat and abroad from the late 60s, but her first Russian publication, Circle, did not appear until 1984. She authored over ten collections of poetry. and was awarded the Andrei Bely Literary Prize and the Triumph Prize, the latter an independent award for lifetime’s achievement in the arts. ‘Paradise’: Selected Poems (1993) and Birdsong on the Seabed (2008)Both were Poetry Book Society Recommended Translations.