You are currently viewing nothing matters except having clean hands
Vincent Van Gogh, Shoes, 1988. The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York.

Language: Russian
Region: Russia
Poet: Aleksey Porvin
Translator: Isaac Stackhouse Wheeler


nothing matters except having clean hands

A poem by Aleksey Porvin translated from the Russian by Isaac Stackhouse Wheeler

Aleksey Porvin is a Russian poet born in 1982. English translations of his poems can be found in numerous journals, including World Literature Today, Words Without Borders, Action Yes, Barnwood International Poetry Mag, Otis Nebula, New Madrid, The Cafe Review, The New Formalist, etc. Porvin is the author of three collections of poems in Russian: Darkness is White (Argo-Risk Press, Moscow, 2009), Poems (New Literature Observer Press, Moscow 2011), and The Sun of the Ship’s Detailed Rib (INAPRESS, Saint Petersburg, 2013). His first book of poems translated into English, Live By Fire, was published by Cold Hub Press in 2011.

Isaac Stackhouse Wheeler is a poet and translator best known for his work with co-translator Reilly Costigan-Humes on novels by great contemporary Ukrainian author Serhiy Zhadan, including Voroshilovgrad, published by Deep Vellum, and The Orphanage, published by Yale University Press. His latest translated book, Andriy Lyubka’s Carbide, is available from Jantar Publishing. Wheeler’s poetry has appeared in numerous journals, including Apofenie, the Big Windows Review, and the Peacock Journal.


Поезд перевозит через границу
шуршание газет, в какие завернута еда
и разговоры ни о чем, звякающие вниз,
как гильзы, рассыпанные новобранцем.

Сунул руку в карман, чтобы достать билет:
на пол посыпались гильзы, ослепленные
сначала движением его чистейшей руки,
затем полуденным светом перемирия.

Пустой звон металла, привыкшего держать в себе
порох, идею воспламенения – разве не лучший билет
на проезд до точки назначения своей души
или ее отсутствия?

Туда, где голод, везут провиант, а в затишье
везут остаточные звуки, спешащие выбыть из речи
и примешаться к простому вагонному быту,
не участвующему в войне.

Умывальник тоже звякает, но так настойчиво, будто людям
снявшим свои погоны и забывшим языковые различия,
остается верить, что в той конечной тишине
кроме чистоты рук ничто не имеет значения.

What Does the Train Carry Over the Border?

The rustling of newspapers—the kind
you’d wrap your lunch in—and conversations
about nothing in particular that jangle
like shell casings scattered by a recruit.

Rummaging in pockets for a ticket
—and they spill onto the floor, dazzled
first by the movement of his spotless hand,
then by the midday light of truce.

The empty clang of metal accustomed
to containing powder with the idea
of ignition—what better ticket to where
your soul will be mobilized or demobilized?

Where there’s hunger, they send provisions,
and into hushes go lingering sounds,
rushing out of speech and into regular railcar life,
uninvolved with the war.

The lavatory sink jangles too, so insistently, as if
in the terminal quiet after people shed their insignias
and forget that they speak different languages
nothing matters except having clean hands.