Offcourse Literary Journal
ISSN 1556-4975 

"Primus," children's verse by Osip Mandelstam (1891-1938), translated from the Russian by Alex Cigale.


  <Notebook fragment>

I had fallen in love with poverty
so long ago, loneliness the lot of a
poor artist.  To make coffee on the stove
I purchased for myself a portable tripod....



PRIMUS” (Children's Verse)    


(The numbers preceding each poem refer to the corresponding pages in the original.)


Whether in glass or samovar,
In a pitcher or decanter,
Water comes from a faucet first.
Be careful; don't break the glass.

I am in love with white underwear,
Friends with whites and with shirts,
I look awhile at them; oh, how sweet!
Then proceed to skate, smooth, iron.
If only you knew how much it hurts
For me to stand there on the fire.

Yes, even sugar has a head
That's neither alive nor dead.
They've brewed some fresh black tea –
Give me sugar!  It's what I need!

The lonely phone cries in the apartment
Two minutes, a third, then a fourth one.
Then it falls silent and scowls:
No one heard me; I'm unloved.

It must mean that no one needs me.
My feelings hurt and I am unwell:
Only the old-fashioned receiver
Will understand my pleading.

If you insist, go ahead and touch.
It's warm at first but then it's ouch.
I am electricity, a cold flame,

A ton of coal stacked in a corner,
then stuffed into a thin metal wick:
The glass bulb doesn't warm, it burns.

Firewood brought into the kitchen.
When the cord is dropped on the floor
It splits and spills – both birch and pine –
So that the kitchen becomes hot,
So that the oven will turn red.

The telephone's loud rings
spill and scatter like beans:
but in the kitchen the irons
and pots are hard of hearing,
the kettle is deaf and dumb.
They aren't the ones to blame.
The fault is the running faucet's.
It makes a racket like a drum.



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