“mama is laughing haha . . .”

Linor Goralik, Trinity in Bucha (2022), black cardboard, gold, white, and red paper, black watercolor, black thread, bandage, red acrylic, pen / Courtesy of the artist / linorgoralik.com

mama is laughing haha
papa is laughing haha
you sound so funny in Azerbaijani

you don’t pronounce the words right
you have a terrible accent
a mercury-stained mess in the middle of your mouth
you talk, and beads of mercury fall from your mouth
scattering and poisoning everything around

do you remember, sister,
when we broke the thermometer
and hid the strange green beads under the couch
so nobody would ever see anything

so nobody would ever find out what we’d done
we hid under the blanket and pretended to be asleep
the mercury beads hug the floor
kiss us on the lips
indecently, improperly

mama says: you should know your own language
papa says: you’ve gone completely Russian
if I hadn’t come to this country,
my kids would be normal
my kids would have grown up normal

do you remember, sister,
how ashamed we were
to be Russified kids
who grew up in a foreign land,
to be rus bala, rus bala1

ata-can,2 can you ever forgive me,
bring these foster kids into your family,
make us a bed on the floor?

they tell the bus driver: talk Russian, you’re in Russia now
I sit in the back and read the Koran
there’s a woman constantly turning to look at me
for her, I’m like an injection of mercury beads
she wants to tell me
you’re in Russia now, but I’m already getting out

the way you write isn’t quite Russian, K tells me,
forgive me, please, I won’t
I can’t do it any other way
sorry, K, I can’t do it in Russian

I get out on this street
I walk to the dorm where good and bad daughters live
where Russified kids live with their sad parents
where Nino, the Georgian woman who raised me, lives
we hold hands and form a chain,
we are a chain of mercury beads,
fragile, not poisonous.

Translation from the Russian

1 In Azerbaijani, “Russian child”

2 “father dear”

Born in 1975 in Soviet Ukraine, Linor Goralik is an artist, writer, and poet who lives in Israel and addresses Russian-speaking audiences across the world. In 2022 she began to produce a series called A Few Icons about the War, including these works after the start of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in February 2022. In 2022 Goralik founded the internet journal ROAR: Russian Oppositional Arts Review, for which she serves as chief editor.

Egana Dzhabbarova is a poet and associate professor at the Ural Federal University in Ekaterinburg, Russia. She has published three books of poetry and is organizer of the festival MEZHA. She has been recognized with the Poetic Debut Award and was also longlisted and shortlisted for the Arkady Dragomoshchenko Award. Her work is featured in the international anthologies Under One Cover (Kazakhstan) and F-Letter (England). Her poetry has been translated into English, Polish, German, and Italian. She currently resides in Taipei, Taiwan.

Elina Alter is a writer and translator. Her translations include Alla Gorbunova’s It’s the End of the World, My Love and Oksana Vasyakina’s Wound. She lives in New York.

Hilah Kohen is a University of Pennsylvania doctoral student currently in residence at Boğaziçi University in Istanbul. Her collaborations in Juhuri (Kavkazi Jewish) language advocacy include curatorial work for the Jewish Language Project and an article foregrounding Indigenous languages of the Russian Federation for Russian Language Journal. With Josephine von Zitzewitz, Kohen co-edited the “Russophonia” issue of Words Without Borders.

Mark Lipovetsky is a professor in the Department of Slavic Languages at Columbia University. Among his many publications are books on Russian postmodernism, New Drama, Dmitry Prigov, and post-Soviet literature. Lipovetsky is also one of four co-authors of A History of Russian Literature (Oxford, 2018). He was awarded the Andrei Bely Prize for his contributions to literary studies.

Kevin M. F. Platt is a professor of Russian and East European studies at the University of Pennsylvania. He works on Russian poetry, history, and memory in Russia and eastern Europe, global russophone culture, and translates contemporary Russian poetry. He is the editor of Global Russian Cultures (Wisconsin, 2019). His new book, Border Conditions: Russian-Speaking Latvians between World Orders, is forthcoming from Cornell University Press / Northern Illinois University Press in 2023.