If There is Something to Desire

ALSO BY VERA PAVLOVA

Iz vos’mi knig
(From Eight Books, 2009)
Na tom beregu rechi
(On the Other Shore of Speech, 2009)
Mudraya dura
(The Wise Fool, 2008)
Tri knigi
(Three Books, 2007)
Pis’ma v sosednuyu komnatu
(Letters to a Room Next Door, 2006)
Ruchnaya klad’
(Carry-on Luggage, 2006)
Po obe storony potseluya
(On Both Sides of the Kiss, 2004)
Vezdes’
(Here and Everywhere, 2002)
Intimnyy dnevnik otlichnicy
(The Intimate Diary of a Straight-A Student, 2001)
Sovershennoletiye
(Coming of Age, 2001)
Chetvertyi son
(The Fourth Dream, 2000)
Liniya otryva
(Tear on This Line, 2000)
Vtoroy yazyk
(The Second Tongue, 1998)
Nebesnoye zhivotnoye
(The Heavenly Beast, 1997)

THIS IS A BORZOI BOOK
PUBLISHED BY ALFRED A. KNOPF

Translation copyright © 2010 by Steven Seymour

All rights reserved.
Published in the United States by Alfred A. Knopf,
a division of Random House, Inc., New York,
and in Canada by Random House of Canada, Limited, Toronto.
www.aaknopf.com

Knopf, Borzoi Books, and the colophon are registered trademarks of Random House, Inc.

All the poems in this collection were originally published in Russia and are copyright © by Vera Pavlova.

Library of Congress Cataloguing-in-Publication Data
Pavlova, Vera (Vera Anatol’evna)
[Poems. English. Selections]
If there is something to desire : one hundred poems / by Vera Pavlova; translated from the Russian by Steven Seymour.—
1st ed.
p.  cm.
“This is a Borzoi book.”
eISBN: 978-0-307-95758-0
1. Pavlova, Vera (Vera Anatol’evna)—Translations into English.  I. Seymour, Steven.  II. Title.
PG3485.A875I37 2010
891.71′5—DC22      2009022095

Cover lettering by Leanne Shapton
Cover design by Chip Kidd

v3.1

The author and the translator
dedicate this book to
Bill Wadsworth,
with love and gratitude

Contents
1

In a nook I write,

you would say crochet

a fuzzy mitten

for a child to be born.

2

My parents were virgins.

At twenty-two, even then it was unusual.

And although Dad was known as a skirt chaser around the women’s dorm,

he visited women in order to get some food,

because he was living on his stipend.

At first he visited Mom also in order to eat.

And when at the school they started talking about a possible wedding,

someone slipped her a copy of

“How a Girl Becomes a Woman.”

Mom threw it out unopened.

It was scary for them to make me.

It was weird for them to make me.

It was painful for them to make me.

It was funny for them to make me.

And I absorbed:

Life is scary.

Life is weird.

Life is painful.

Life is very funny.

3

On his back, on Grandma’s bed, my brother was flailing his tiny legs.

He’s gonna fall,
I thought. But he would not.

Why isn’t he falling?
I wondered. He was flailing his legs.

He’s gotta fall!
Pulled him by the legs closer to the edge.

Still would not fall. Pulled some more. He was flailing his legs.

Pulled a bit more. With a horrific crash he fell head down, the dummy,

and bawled so loud that Grandma came running:

Who left the baby unattended?
— I said:
Mom did.

But not out loud, trembling in the dark under Grandma’s bed.

4

Fell in love in sleep,

woke up in tears:

never have loved anyone so much,

never has anyone loved me so.

Had no time for even a kiss,

nor to ask his name.

Now I pass

sleepless nights

dreaming of him.

5

Mother left early for work.

Dawn was soiling the sky.

Virginity? The hell with it! High time.

The first night happened at dawn,

on September the first.

The day before I had promised him,

and I keep my word. Lover, take

your reward for the evenings

spent hiding in crannies and nooks.

So this is what “being a wife” means?

6

Learn to look past,

to be the first to part.

Tears, saliva, sperm

are no solvents for solitude.

On gilded wedding bowls,

on the plastic cups of one-night stands,

an eye can see, if skilled,

solitude’s bitter residue.

7

If there is something to desire,

there will be something to regret.

If there is something to regret,

there will be something to recall.

If there is something to recall,

there was nothing to regret.

If there was nothing to regret,

there was nothing to desire.

8

A beast in winter,

a plant in spring,

an insect in summer,

a bird in autumn.

The rest of the time I am a woman.

9

I broke your heart.

Now barefoot I tread

on shards.

10

I feel

your flesh so full

in me,

that I do not feel it

at all

on top of me.

Is all of you

within me,

a thing-in-me?

Or is all of you

outside of me,

and only seems to be?

11

Let us touch each other

while we still have hands,

palms, forearms, elbows …

Let us love each other for misery,

let us torture each other,

mangle, maim,

to remember better,

to part with less pain.

12

Tenderly on a tender surface

the best of my lines are written:

with the tip of my tongue on your palate,

on your chest in tiny letters,

on your belly …

But, darling, I wrote them

pianissimo
!

May I erase with my lips

your exclamation mark?

13

What cannot be swallowed,

what does not go down the gullet,

what only stays in the mouth

and is absorbed by the tongue and the palate,

what cannot be called nourishment,

can well be called a wild strawberry,

a first and a last kiss,

a grape, semen, a wafer.

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