This week in the PEN Poetry Series, PEN America features two poems by Kirill Medvedev, translated from the Russian by Jonathan Brooks Platt. 


Victory Day

This is what happened on Victory Day in our city:
in the evening two families were walking in the park: one couple with a four year-old daughter,
another with a seven year-old son. One of the women was nine-months pregnant.

Two cops saw one of the women pull a bottle of soda from her bag and hand it to her four year-old.
One of the cops walked up and without taking the cigarette from his mouth, said through his teeth: “So, citizens, drinking, are we?”

Everyone froze. The cop ripped the bottle from the hands of four year-old Alina and sniffed it to see if it was alcohol.
The girl’s mom got upset: “Comrade police officer, how can you speak this way to us? You think we’re drinking? I gave my daughter some soda. It’s hot…”

“What’s that? Don’t you speak like that to me, mommy. Go on, say something else,” and the cop tossed the bottle of soda he’d taken from the little girl into the trash.
The girl started crying.
Now the husbands got involved.
The cops answered them: “You nuts or something? We’ll set you up right now with assaulting an officer. Come on, let’s go rot in jail!”

The cop radioed for backup, and they came right away in their cop-cars.
A group jumped out and started shoving both men into the car.
The four year-old girl started shouting: “Where are you taking my papa?!”…

And of course the moms started defending their husbands.
They also got dragged into the car, even the one who was nine-months pregnant.
Suddenly one of the cops told her: “If you get down on your knees, I’ll leave you with your daughter.” They both got down on their knees.

Seven year-old Danilka and four year-old Alina were screaming their lungs out right next to them.
Alina rushed to defend her parents and grabbed one of the cops by the leg, but he shook her off with a kick, and the little four year-old kid ploughed her right cheek across the asphalt.

When we heard about this, me and the guys decided to do something.
The next weekend we found out what squad they were in and everything.

Sitting in the bushes, we checked the photographs a long time to be sure.
I have bad eyesight, so I was looking through binoculars.
Everything was the same, this was the right patrol, but we still had some small doubts.
When one of them called the other one “Micky Dick,” and he called him “Fagman-Stan” back, everything was totally clear.

Vasya shouted in a weak voice: “Help!” The cops ran over to help.
One of them got his head smashed right away,
the other one was surprised and slipped and was lying in front of us.
“We’re going to kill you,” said Arseny.
On your knees!

The cop refused to get on his knees, saying through his teeth that it was a question of honor.
He was beside himself by now and kept saying like he was in some kind of trance:
“A question of honor, it’s a question of honor.”
I don’t know what was keeping him on his feet at that moment.

Ivan stuck a skewer he’d just found lying there under the bushes into the guy’s neck.
The cop fell right away, blood sprayed out and started gushing all over,
invading the life of little forest animals.

It turned out we didn’t have much gasoline, it’s hard to calculate on your first time,
but it was dry, they’d dispersed the clouds in town for the parade I think,
so the monsters burned up pretty easily.

…Later we were sitting in a chebureki shop, and I was telling my friends my views on violence.
I said that I could never kill a man who, for example, had ordered my favorite building to be torn down or to dig up a park,
because the life of a human being, of course, is incommensurable with a building or a park.
And, of course, I am against terror on the streets,
random people shouldn’t suffer
by any means. No bombs or blowing things up.
But precise punishments are justifiable—
for torture and devious acts of violence against
our comrades, or just against helpless people,
I think you can and must kill.

…Fortunately, the conversation couldn’t turn to
whether it was ok to kill in general,
whether it was right to answer violence with violence,
whether a cop’s tear is worth world harmony and so on.
The deed was done.


On the Day of My Thirty-Seventh Birthday

On the day of my thirty-seventh birthday I ended up involved
in murdering the president.
I was in charge of watching the windows of his palace
and sending back coded reports.
I did everything that was required, and just when I started getting nervous
and things were slowing down like death,
I got a message that said the president had been killed.
Then I split from the crowd of gawkers in front of the palace,
but I noticed that someone else had split off after me,
a man with a strange smile,
that’s all I need, I thought,
I’ll have to take him out.
Leading the man into a little park,
I turned and shot,
and when I ran up to finish him off,
I heard his dying words and the question—
“Why did you do it? I’m a big fan of yours, I love
the Walls song and your ‘Three percent’ book,
I just wanted to ask for your
Shit, I thought, what a missfire.
A tragic missfire, a mistake,
which means the good-for-nothing president
is still alive.


Once a week, the PEN Poetry Series publishes work by emerging and established writers from coast to coast. Subscribe to the PEN Poetry Series mailing list and have poems delivered to your e-mail as soon as they are published (no spam, no news, just poems).