Larissa's Blog

The Searchers

Curled and inert, an El Greco Christ:death has pulled your form so long, forlorn.  What church father said we were urinum and feces, urinum, sputum, and phlegm? As if these last moments of wet last release, the bloody catheter and the mucosed lung, could take from me, my bicameral mind, with a chamber owned solely by you; with a net of live neurons, a billion or more imprinted on your face alone,on the sight of you, bending, tall at the door smiling and coming home.On the memory of your strong arms, young and hard, lifting me up when I fell, like John Wayne in The Searchers lifted Natalie Wood, when a nail pierced my foot through my shoe. As rusty we became, as foreign to each other, till this parting, in your arms, in this embrace. Proschai.


A razor cuts your wrists, but
what cut you off from me?
Is true love quart'red below?

When (blew) an azure sky
separates the chambered clouds,
which Earth will you then save,
which elements recycle?

These eclipses should portend,
but I would always be
the bastard that I am,
had the maidlienest, brightest star
eclipsed upon this gesture.


* To Harrow Marrow: Whatever these eclipses portend, what saves you is not salvation with its grace, but the grace of no salvation.

Translation of Mayakovsky's last poem, edited

Still fiddling with this, Mayakovsky's last poem, after so many years. "Milkway" and "cloved" are new to match the Russian abbreviation and pepper pun. Like poems, translations are never finished, only abandoned.

It's after one. You've likely gone to sleep.
The Milkway streams silver, an Oka through the night.
I don't hurry, I don't need to wake you
Or bother you with lightning telegrams.
Like they say, the incident is cloved.
Love's little boat has crashed on daily life.
We're even, you and I. No need to account
For mutual sorrows, mutual pains and wrongs.
Look: How quiet the world is.
Night cloaks the sky with the tribute of the stars.
At times like these, you can rise, stand, and speak
To history, eternity, and all creation.

Telo ("Body, Corpse")

Note: The Russian refrains are individual prayers for forgiveness and mercy.

The hands that lay me out will be the hands of my everyman God,as they appeared to Ivan Illych at the end: a stranger's hands;a student, earnest; an old nurse's aide.
My niece, moya krestnitsa, whom I raised and let down, is dead. Her sofas, sardonic, delivered as she stiffens, stiffens, mens, mens not sana. Pray,dear God,pray God, pray God,not in fear.
Forgive me, Irochka; Irochka, prosti. Ta budet volya Tvoya. Pomilyu, Gospodi; pomilyu, ty.

     The hands that lay me out will be the hands of my everyman God, 
as they appeared to Ivan Illych at the end: a stranger's hands; 
a student, earnest; an old nurse's aide.The cemetery, Whites and birch trees; black monashki tending mad Orthodox graves,the old age home there, elders without fear.
The woods where my father showed me tadpoles, life:Parents of camps and daughter-strife,
Ancestors, woods, I:would you lived
Forgive the girl who left to live.
Ta budet volya Tvoya.
Gospodi, pomilyu; Papa, Mama, prosti.

The hands that will lay me out will be the hands of my everyman God, 
as they appeared to Ivan Illych at the end: a stranger's hands, 
a student, earnest; an old nurse's aide:
They tell the other residents of my home: “That lady wrote a book.” I have no Alzheimer's. My face, without tonus, big as the Ukraine.
I loved a few, ignored the many.
Forgive the woman who was so silly.
Ta budet volya Tvoya.
Gospodi, pomilyu; gospoda, prosti.

The hands that will lay me out will be the hands of my everyman God, 
as they appeared  to Ivan Illych at the end: a stranger's hands, 
 an earnest graduate student, an old nurse's aide:
With a chess king in Queens, “Thanks for the laughter, 1985.” Unorthodox Jew, took  a honeymoon dive in dreadful Cancun.

Vegas bones and manic ride:
Forgive me, Steven, I was still alive.
Ta budet volya Tvoya.
Gospodi, pomilyu. Stiva, prosti.

Steven's old bones, his fine strong teeth, welcome me: Forgiveness is here, immortal, see?
We host starlings, squirrels, a tough, unkempt bush: I am not forgot
by teenagers fucking, looking at tadpoles, anguishing their parents, smoking pot.

Ta budet volya Tvoya. Gospodi, pomilyu. Deti, prosti.


Be careful, you who straddle
science and inner sooth:
giants collapse, learning
that we cannot reach the sun, and
sages are struck blind,
their heads spun full around; they
turn into prescient hermaphrodites
to plumb the Oedipal truths.

Can truth be done, without the sun?
Can you live without its light?
Can you blindly follow Apollo
with Tiresias through each doubt?
Can you live without your cherished truths,
can you learn to live without?


I haven’t passed that dream of wisdom,
the borders you crossed through.

I can’t translate the language I thought I thought I knew.
I see a meaning, watching you die,
hold it in my hands like a graying sigh,
this lock of hair which I comb and tie.
I kiss the head which hears my no,
and meet your eyes, and say: Don’t go.and leave you to this tongue of dread:
This is me, it cries, this is me and I die.We will all speak these words in this way  and then, and till then, what shall I say?

The Girl @theParisReview Says Uncool

The idiot girl @theParisReview says uncool:
that, to critique, the phrase, the trappings of,
is used by “100% pretentious hacks.” And     the editor @PoetryFound retweets her crap,
and an article on pooping, besides. I was                 
going to tweet a Baudelaire, from “Beauty,” line,
line by displaced line:
I am beautiful, o mortals, like a dream of stone
But thought better of it (a proscribed phrase?)
 —an unpretentious #Stalinist might
tell me not to translate, or Baudelaire not to write.
(But what does this mean:
Je hais le mouvement qui déplace les lignes?
Is the idiot girl @ParisCool right?) No, she is
an idiot, disliking a history without her part,
as I dislike the way the young are heartless, mean,
calling it honest (and I was different @18?)

This poem appeared in Gargoyle.

I am not your insect

Your underfoot, your exterminated, your bug. My unabashedly hairy legs, whose gymnopédies twitch like a chorus for a fatal Sharon Stone, delight in ces mouvements qui déplace les lignes, in the motion, the quiver, the mort, the catch. Mother Kali, you have made me what I am: feminine, brilliant, entirely without fear. Like my mother, I watch and pray for  prey—that it be there, that it give gore, that I feel it die, that there be more

Vive L’Égypte

A man, beaten — face the color of a burkha dragged through the mud — is lifted by Isis with her rose and her tiet.
Isis, who loves mothers, the downtrodden, slaves —who is friend to the Nile and the dead —who listens
even to the prayers of the rich —  lifts his frame — trampled and broken —  from her mud.Allahu ahkbar! he cries.
She cries. Cairo —  Sharm El-Sheikh — Alexandria — Hurghada —  Luxor —  Aswan — the blood of the goddesscalls from Philae.

In Paran

I grew up wild and reckless in the land of desert nomads,
In the arid lands that lie near the promised land and Egypt,
That land of milk and honey they were saving for my brother
And the land of Pharaoh’s bondage where my mother’s kin were born.
I lived my youth near Canaan and the slaving lands of Egypt,
I lived my life an outcast in the desert of Paran.

I grew up wild and stubborn: my hand against my father
At war with all my kinfolk; my kin at war with me.
I grew up wild and skittish, like a scared colt in a sandstorm
I laughed at mules and camels that never could break free.

But I learned to run in sandstorms, and how to eat my water,
And how to find oases, and how to take the heat.
I learned to talk to demons, to tempters and to genies.
I learned to talk to devils, to outcasts just like me.

I learned to love and pity my younger brother Isaac
When they took him to the slaughter, not even asking why.
God bade me make the manna for Isaac and his children.
My demons said they’d be here, twelve tribes of them someday.
In this land of desert nomads near the promised land and Egypt
Near the land of milk and honey in the desert of Paran.

"In Paran" has appeared in The New Press Literary Quarterly, FULCRUM, The Enchanting Verses Literary Review, and in Measure for Measure: An Anthology of  Poetic Meters (Penguin Random House).

Rant Alert: James Patterson and Sentence versus Story

The constantly best-selling author, James Patterson, is offering writing workshops. In his advertisements, he tells prospective students "to focus on the story, not the sentence."

I was a poet before I was a novelist, and this advice hurts my heart. We poets have to do a lot in a sentence, given our form, and novelists should, too.

Which story comprised of the following sentences would you rather read?

The doctor ran very quickly to his expensive car.  OR
The psychiatrist hurtled toward his Porsche.

(I'll leave the topic of using vapid adjectives and adverbs instead of strong nouns and verbs to another rant.)

What would have become of Nabokov, Joyce, Pushkin, et. al. if they followed this advice? Imagine Lolita without a master's eye to both sentence and story. And what about Finnegan's Wake? I shudder.

Dear novelists, please focus on your stories, but don't forget they are made of sentences. Make yours rambunctious, hilarious, poetic, unique.

Dancing with the Devil in English and Persian

They say that if you flirt with death
You’re going to get a date;But I don’t mind---the music’s fine,And I love dancing with someone who can really lead.
In Persian, translated by Mohammad Mostaghimi (Rahi):
لاریسا شمایلو

رقص با شیطان

شنیده‌ام اگر با مرگ برقصی

تو را به جاودانگی می‌برد


به گمان من

عاشقانه رقصیدن

همراه با یک موسیقی شگرف

با او

مرا به آن سو

پرتاب می‌کند

گزاشتار: محمد مستقیمی-راهی

Reprise: Skin

My tongue is bruised
My nude is creaky
Like a cabbage I sit and wait for you
I stutter like an old gun:
Take me
The fast love of my hair.

Your beady little eyes transfix me
Like rats at the foot of my bed
Your limp pendant wrists still hang on my door
You snicker, get a grip.

Your skin is a labyrinth
I follow like a duct
I follow the duct of your eyes like a skein
To the comminatory bull
Eyes forward, now toward, where I leap for the horns;
Won’t you come in, he sighs.

You own too big a piece of me
Your eyes say spare some change and I
Don’t want to I
Take and give no quarter and I’ve
Already cut my hair.

Skin is just sausage we call home.
Skin is just sausage we call home.

Happy birthday, Andre Breton (b. 2/19/1896)! Excerpt from Manifesto of Surrealism

André Breton (b. 1896) – French writer, poet, theorist of surrealism
Excerpt from Breton’s 1924 Manifesto of Surrealism We are still living under the reign of logic: this, of course, is what I have been driving at. But in this day and age logical methods are applicable only to solving problems of secondary interest.
The absolute rationalism that is still in vogue allows us to consider only facts relating directly to our experience. Logical ends, on the contrary, escape us.
It is pointless to add that experience itself has found itself increasingly circumscribed. It paces back and forth in a cage from which it is more and more difficult to make it emerge.
It too leans for support on what is most immediately expedient, and it is protected by the sentinels of common sense.
Under the pretense of civilization and progress, we have managed to banish from the mind everything that may rightly or wrongly be termed superstition, or fancy; forbidden is any kind of search for truth which is not in conformance with accepted practices.

Text of essay "Everything Has Become Masculine": Hypermasculinity and War in Victory over the Sun

“Everything Has Become Masculine”— Hypermasculinity and War in Victory over the Sun.
The first Futurist opera, Victory over the Sun (VOTS) by Alexei Kruchenych, is known as a brilliant linguistic, poetic, and theatrical experiment, an anti-opera which may have been the world’s first performance piece. The inspired shenanigans of VOTS even pre-date the antics of Dada.
To test the bounds of metaphor and language, nothing in this avant-garde play was supposed to make any sense. However, the creators of VOTS – composer Mikhail Matiushin, painter, avant pioneer Kazimir Malevich, and poet Kruchenych – were Futurists with a definite artistic agenda. It is unlikely that the authors of a slew of manifestos and position statements such as “The Slap in the Face of the Public Taste” and “The Word as Such” would not use the bully pulpit of a sold-out show to opine, at least a bit.
There is a message in VOTS, and a fairly distinct one, despite the disruptions of dramatic conventions.  It is one born of the zeitgeist of the new era of technological war of the 20th century and the Futurist ethos, which eschewed the infirm past to seek greater human power, to become “awesome.” And this message is an antiwar one.
To give a Marxist reading of Victory over the Sun, VOTS is the Russian Duck Soup, or given the chronology, Duck Soup is the American Victory over the Sun. Both works use hilarity and irreverence in a send-up of the hypermasculinity of war. The time traveler declares "Everything has become masculine" and even female and neuter nouns turn masculine and, suitably, “hard as iron” And then the most ridiculous and antic hell breaks loose.

Like the Marx Brothers, the Futurists trample over every ideal of masculinity that ever existed. They pillory war with energy, slapstick, and rudeness. Fat Turks with drooping flags give their adversaries flowers, like 1960s hippies, malevolents lurk, strongmen declaim. Perhaps Kruchenych's disjoint war, with its neologisms for code and poetic experiments for battle cries, is more like actual war, chaotic, insane, making no sense.

Kruchenych wrote, “We aim to emphasize the significance that all sorts of harshness… dissonance, and…primitive rudeness holds for art.” In Victory, there is razlom, breaking apart, and war on all levels—linguistic, semantic, syntactic, orthographic, metaphoric, dramatic. By boasting that he had created “the only opera in the world with no female part,” Kruchenykh subverts the hyperfeminine form of opera, as Eugene Ostashevsky notes.
VOTS mocks the insipid feminine the way Groucho mocks Margaret Dumont. Like Dumont, francophone symbolists and tubercular Italian are a false and puffed up art that must be eliminated before a true feminine can emerge.  Getting the Margaret Dumonts out of the way clears the way for Futurist strongwomen like Elena Guro, Kruchenych's sister in Troe.
The early twentieth century and its devastating technological wars could be not be met with decadence, prudery, and cowardice. As Annie Finch has noted, all early modernism glories in its masculinity (i.e., Joyce praising Eliot for not writing girly poems), this perhaps because of the need for soldiering at this time. Victory over the Sun mentions Port Arthur, the first defeat of a European power by an Asian one, by the land, nota bene, of the rising “sun.” Our technology loving and machine-gun toting Futurists knew of the horrific war engines introduced in the Russo-Japanese war. They needed Guros and Akmatovas who could take the heat with them.
In war, men are called upon to defend their women, their mothers, their daughters, their wives. Even Stalin dropped all talk of communist internationalism in World War II, calling upon soldiers to defend their Rodina, Mother Russia. Kruchenych's version of this was to throw Pushkin, the "sun" of Russia, whom he deemed too French, off the bridge of the ship of modernity. As Rosamund Bartlett points out, what he places there instead are the deep and ancient roots of the Russian tongue mined from Dal's dictionary. Kruchenych proclaims ZH CH SH, letters that appear in no non-Slavic alphabet, as phonemic battle cries.
The war against the sun results in a peace of people prepared to be awesome; not all can handle the liberation of the world from gravity and the word from denotation. As Kruchenych noted, life is good after victory; little gold fishes swim and there is light. So all this hypermasculinity clears the way for a very female virtue, peace.
I surmise that the Marx Brothers are indebted to Kruchenych for Duck Soup, which they must have read or intuited in the ether of early twentieth century theater. I posit that Kruchenych was a Slavophile. And conclude that women welcome the announcement that everything has become masculine when such masculinity clears the way for a powerful feminine. After all, when the male sun is overthrown, it leaves room for the female moon to romp.

Excerpt from Patient Women

Excerpt from Patient Women (Nora at 22)
When it was slow, Nora told Billy the plots of Russian novels. They had just finished The Brothers Karamazov, which Billy enjoyed, and were now starting Anna Karenina.
“Anna is a brilliant woman, “Nora told Billy, who was lying on the floor with a bottle of bourbon between her knees. “Most people don’t realize that. She can do anything, except speak up for herself.” Nora reached over and filled her tumbler from Billy’s bottle. “While she’s shacked up with Vronsky, she writes children’s books, she studies architecture, follows local politics; anything Count Vronsky does, she does too, and better. She even handles horses better.”
The phone rang. Billy sat up.
“Friends with Style”, Nora answered. She listened into the receiver for a few moments, then hung up. “Breather,” she told Billy. Billy lay back down.
“So, why can’t she talk about herself?” Billy asked.
Nora shrugged “Never learned. The men in the book do it for her. At one point, Dolly—that’s Stiva’s wife—tries to talk to her about what’s happening in her life and Anna just blanks. She starts to talk a little but then it gets onto abortion.”
“They had abortions then?” Billy asked.
“What do you think?” Nora replied. “Anna may have had one by this point in the novel, or may be planning to; it’s very strongly suggested. The thing is, she can’t talk about any of this stuff, not Vronsky, not leaving her husband; she just shuts down.”
“So what happened to her?” Billy asked.
Before Nora could answer, the doorbell rang.
“Coming,” Billy called gaily. She looked through the peep-hole.
But instead of a trick, a woman entered. She was about thirty years old, tall, big-boned and ungainly. She was wearing a plaid dress trimmed with lace and velvet; she had patent leather flats with bows on her too-large feet, with straps bracing the shoes. She looked, Nora thought, like a giant child going to a birthday party.
“I’m here for a job,” the woman said.
Billy and Nora exchanged looks.
“The ad said you needed models,” the woman insisted.
Nora sat her down to wait for the pimp and told her the rates: one hundred dollars for suck and fuck, two hundred for Greek, three hundred for dominance, no equipment. The women took half.
“I’m working now,” the woman interrupted. “I have a job now.” She was rocking slightly, as if she needed to pee.
“That’s nice,” Nora answered automatically.
The woman smiled. “I know how to work,” she said proudly.
“How much do you make now?” Nora asked, expecting her to double her take.
“Five dollars,” the woman replied.
“How much?” Nora asked in disbelief.
The woman rocked harder. “I know how to work,” she said. “I make two hundred dollars a day. Two hundred dollars a day.” She looked at Nora. “I know how to work,” she repeated, “I know how to work, I know how to work, I know how to work. I know how to work, I know how to work . . . .”
Patient Women on Amazon
More about Patient Women

The No-Net World

Deep in your heart, you always believedThere was a barrier, a secret shieldKeeping you safe from the streetSecretly, you knewYour good shoes and your warm lined glovesKept you apart, and safeFrom the man with the cup in his handAnd the boy with the cardboard signAnd the woman with the bloated legsAnd the girls with the begging eyesFrom the weathered madwomen railing at GodAnd the shadows at the ashcan firesFrom the need to ask, no choices left:Mister, can you please …?
What did you, from the cushioned worldOf buffers, alternatives, other ways to turnOf loans from family friendsOf credit cards and healthy childrenOf grocers who smiled because they knew how well you ate:What did you have in common with the concrete world of need?Secretly, you knew, so surely you believedYou could never fall so low
Welcome to the no-net world.
Then I got fired one dayI got fired one dayLost my job and then my houseI got fired one day.
Now your debts mount up like garbage and a layoff’s coming soonAnd you have to see a doctor and insurance just pays halfAnd your folks who lent you money just can’t help you anymoreAnd the loans are coming due; still, the force field is there,In the lining of the gloves, in the good if now used shoesYou will never stand like that goddamned bumHolding the door at the bankToo tired to whore or stealSaying, Please ma’am, please ma’am, please ...   Then I got HIVI got HIVThey found outI lost my kidsI got HIV
You would never seeHunger on the face of your childWhen she came home from school there would always beApples and rice and chicken and beansMilk and carrots and peasNow there’s two days left till payday and just one last can of cornAnd she’s home, laughing hungry, Hi, I’m home, Ma, what’s for lunch?
Welcome to the no-net world
Are you hungry? Good:Ready, set, line-up, let’s go:You can get on line on Monday for the lunch meal that’s on Tuesdayand the shelter line’s for Thursday but you have to sign up MondayBut you stayed there just last Wednesday so you can’t come back till Friday.

And the Food Stamps place is downtownAnd the welfare place is uptownAnd the Medicaid is westsideAnd the hospital is eastsideNo I can’t give you a token No I can’t give you a tokenNo I can’t give you a tokenDon’t you know you’ll only drink?
Hell, yes.
Like a child praying to GodYou believed in foreverYou thought home and hearth were,Not for everyone of course,But surely for you:
Only in the nightmaresRare unremembered dreamsDid you stand by the door of the bankSayingYes ma'am, God bless you ma’am Please.
Don’t get sick.Don’t let anyone you love get sick.Don’t be mentally ill.Don’t lose your job.Don’t be without money for a second.Don’t make any mistakes.
Welcome to the no-net world.

Still more love poems for Valentine's Day

You are distant, alone, and far on the horizon, obscured, almost nurtured, by the ocean's fog.Seeking and searching, you are always a stranger:What did leaving me, losing me, cost?
I would swim with one foot on the sand of the dry land;I would wait for you, never explore.But you are the waves, and the wind and its whistle,and the storm you embrace far from shore.
My few timid ships all cling to the shorelinetoo frightened to leave what they know.You laugh and command them: There is another shore;the second appears when the first is gone.
So sing, my dear love, of the wide morning's gold sky,and the call of the azure strand,and the gull and the salt and the mast that pitches,and the lure of a foreign land.
I will be your welcome, your country forever; I'll receive, then release you (adieu).I will be your native and nurturing homelandand wait to be called home by you.
Say, is not all love illicit and blind?True, it hides, undone, in the mind.
Who knows Allah’s thoughts truly lovesthe Self that is Allah’s own wisdom to know,and you are Allah’s, my milk, sheep, and doves,unsure yet certain, a dervish in the snow.
Did you, today, attend upon love?No, intent instead, you will not find.
Who knows Allah’s thoughts truly lovesthe Self that is Allah’s own wisdom to know,and you are Allah’s, my milk, sheep, and doves,unsure yet certain, a dervish in the snow.
Greedily, you eat and fruit is gone.Pulp devoured, you hold the rind.
Who knows Allah’s thoughts truly lovesthe Self that is Allah’s own wisdom to know,and you are Allah’s, my milk, sheep, and doves,unsure yet certain, a dervish in the snow.
You have lost your love? O, sing, fool: Now gaze upon love’s comely behind.
Who knows Allah’s thoughts truly lovesthe Self that is Allah’s own wisdom to know,and you are Allah’s, my milk, sheep, and doves,unsure yet certain, a dervish in the snow.
I love love’s desert and its snow.I, Larissa, dervish, a lover signed.