ISSN 1556-4975

OffCourse Literary Journal

 Published by Ricardo and Isabel Nirenberg since 1998


Viacheslav Kupriyanov (b. 1939), translated from the Russsian by Alex Cigale.

To the Russian originals




A certain cavalryman arriving on foot to attend a concert was, for this reason, slightly delayed, and so was obliged to sit in the rear rows. It would have been better had I saddled up my horse, he thought to himself. When the music began playing, he could barely even see the musicians through the dense thicket of heads of those seated in front of him. If I were sitting on my horse right now, he thought, I would be able to see everything. But then he remembered that he did have his saber with him and, in one quick movement, he withdrew it and chopped a clearing through the heads that interrupted his line of sight; now, with all of these beheaded, he could see everything much better. Both the music and the musicians were to his liking, but he was even more pleased with his own clear-cut resolution of the problem;  he even thought that, perhaps, he should now slice off the ears of the remaining public, so that he could enjoy the music all to himself. But by then the music had already soothed his savage breast, and he did not act on this thought, but proceeded instead to listen to the concert to the end, along with the other lovers of music remaining.





The philosopher who had taught that everything is an all-engulfing and eternally burning fire, by the decision of cold reason and cool heads, was condemned to be burned for his heresy.

A huge bonfire was lit, and the philosopher, prodded forward by an experienced executioner and the servile, though not particularly enlightened public, walked into the flames. When the bonfire went out, the throng, to their consternation and amazement, saw the unharmed, but smoked and covered head to foot in soot philosopher, so that on this foreground, his smile appeared especially dazzling.

"He's a nigger!", someone shouted. "Lynch him!"

But instead, they decided to report this unseemly miracle to their ruler, who was reputed to be a wise man.

"Drown him immediately!", the wise man commanded.

They amicably escorted the philosopher to the river and tossed him in the water. The water started to hiss and emitted a column of steam, almost scalding the curious, who had started throwing stones into the water for good measure.

After this, the philosopher was never again seen.

"Your Highness, how did you know that the heretic had to be immediately drowned?", they asked the ruler somewhat later on, on the evening news.

"Such is the dialectic, the wise ruler replied, gazing down at his watch – the conflict of opposites."

The news anchor, wanting to extend the conversation with the great man, asked: "Perhaps we needn't have fanned the flames in the first place?"

"Without the fire, the water may never have begun to hiss." The ruler found something witty to say in reply, and everyone who saw and heard this proceeded to snicker in delight.



In their attempt to understand the words of the emissaries of an adversary state, the men in charge addressed the translator thus:

"So are they intending to go to war with us or not?"

The translator translated this question to the emissaries and, having listened to their response in the language that he alone understood, pronounced:

"They do, but they will not fight us."

Soon after the emissaries' departure, the war began, which, because it was so unexpected, was initially thought to be a civil one. Once this mistake was recognized, it was first of all decided, in order to inspire the enthusiasm of the populace, to execute the translator.

"Why the hell did you lie to us about everything? It seems that after all, what they said was that they did not wish to fight us, but that they would." They asked this of the man before executing him.

The translator, as an expression of his natural skepticism, waved his head, which it was immediately decided to decapitate.

The executioner's ax clanged and a dictionary – the only thing inside the unfortunate man's head –  spilled out, its pages rustling oddly, onto the executioner's block. The executioner picked this dictionary up and, to the approving cheer of the crowd, raised it above his own head. The execution had thus proven to be a great success.




A man suddenly discovers a sausage staring in his face. It is so big that, in his disbelief, whether it is real or not, the man rushes to consume it all. When he has eaten a sensible quantity of the sausage before him, he begins to eat enough for later, in reserve as it were, and because he has already grown weary of chewing, he begins simply swallowing it whole, something that comes to him with great difficulty, but the man refuses to give up, and this is not for naught, for finally, the man begins to feel a great satisfaction at swallowing, for the sausage is now sliding out from his behind. He continues stuffing himself with great pleasure until he suddenly comes into contact with someone else's behind. This puts him in a quandry, but then he notices that the stranger's behind begins receding from his mouth if he slows down the rate of his consumption. Just as he becomes accustomed to this ideal rate, continuing to swallow the sausage that is emerging out of someone else's behind, he suddenly feels a mouth flush against his own ass, which means that now he can no longer stop, even if he wishes to. At the same time, he begins to feel increasingly hot and, with difficulty twisting his eyes askance, notices a rising flame. The sausage begins to rotate slowly and turns into a spit, on which the man himself begins turning, so that no part of him will heat up too fast, something that gives him a sense of relief, but in relaxing, he allows another part of himself to begin to roast, and this of course becomes another source of concern. The last thing that entered his heat-oppressed head was a flash of recognition: this is precisely how the sausage that he had been eating the entire time was being prepared.


Kupriyanov photo

Viacheslav Kupriyanov is considered to be one of the founders (along with Vladimir Burich and Arvo Metz) of contemporary Russian free verse. His work has appeared in many of Russia's “thick journals,” including in Novyi Mir, Druzhba Narodov, Znamya, NLO, etc., and he was awarded the Ivan Bunin Prize in 2010. A translator of German poetry, he has published a Selected volume of Rilke in Russian translation. Although his work has appeared in some 40 of the world's languages, he is perhaps best known in German, and this constitutes the most substantial publication of his work in English to date.

Alex Cigale’s English language poems have appeared in Colorado Review, The Common Online, and The Literary Review, and his translations in Harvard Review Online, Kenyon Review Online, The Hopkins Review, New England Review, PEN America, TriQuarterly, World Literature Today, Words Without Borders, and elsewhere. A 2015 NEA Literary Translation Fellow for his work on the poet Mikhail Eremin, he edited the Spring 2015 Russia Issue of Atlanta Review and is Plume‘s Contributing Editor for Translation. His first full book, Russian Absurd: Daniil Kharms, Selected Writings, is just out in Northwestern University Press’s World Classics series.
See also Cigale's Anthology of Russian Poetic Miniatures, in Offcourse #41.

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