Inna Kabysh, translated by Katherine E. Young

Translator’s Introduction

“There’s nothing ladylike about the poems of Inna Kabysh,” says Igor Volgin in his Russian-language review of Kabysh’s latest book, Mama myla ramu ( Kabysh’s themes range from domestic life and women’s work to Russia’s brutal war in Chechnya. In poem after poem she considers the mother-child connection, which she explores here in a hospital ward as the narrator recovers from an abortion (a leading form of birth control during the Soviet period, when contraceptives were largely unavailable). Though their subject matter is contemporary, all three of these poems demonstrate Kabysh’s poetic roots in the Russian tradition of speaking truth to power, as well as her thematic and stylistic kinship with poets Anna Akhmatova in the 20th century and Mikhail Lermontov in the 19th century.

With the exception of several short poems published in anthologies of contemporary Russian writing, almost none of Kabysh’s work has been translated into English. The original poems presented here are translated from the versions in Nevesta bez mesta (Moscow: Vremya, 2008), a volume of new and selected work. The second of the three featured poems, “Bed Rest,” consists of three sections abstracted by Kabysh from a longer poem. These translations appear in a dual-language edition of Kabysh’s poetry for the iPad that is forthcoming from Artist’s Proof Editions ( The iPad edition includes text and audio versions of the poems in both Russian and English, as well as video interpretations of the poems.

Of the two women who came to Solomon

Of the two women who came to Solomon,
one was a man –
only a man would say:
Cut it in two!
for he did not give birth
and principle for him is more important than life.
A man always divides:
into Ghibellines and Guelphs,
into white Guelphs and black Guelphs,
into blacks and whites,
into white- and red-skinned,
into reds and whites.
A man divides –
a woman multiplies.
A man sees in Chechnya, which was conquered by Lermontov,
a part of Russia,
a woman sees – the whole of Lermontov.
And the woman says to the tsar:
Give them this Chechnya,
just let it live!
because for her life, and not the kilometer,
is the sole unit of measure,
and she,
who always gives herself up –
who’s always left behind with her belly,
that what stays with you
is only what you’ve given up.
But the tsar answers:
Death to the sons of bitches!
and begins to bomb,
because he’s
a man, and not Solomon.

[Translator’s note: Russian forces launched the First Chechen War in the waning months of 1994.]
Из двух пришедших к Соломону женщин
одна была мужчиной, —
только мужчина мог сказать:
«Рубите!» —
ибо он не рожал
и принцип для него важнее жизни.
Мужчина всегда делит:
на гибелинов и гвельфов,
на гвельфов белых и гвельфов чёрных,
на чёрных и белых,
на белых и краснокожих,
на красных и белых.
Мужчина делит —
женщина умножает.
Мужчина видит в Чечне, завоёванной Лермонтовым,
часть России,
женщина — целого Лермонтова.
И женщина говорить царю:
«Отдай ты им эту Чечню,
пусть только он будет живой!» —
потому что единица измерения для неё —
жизнь, а не километр,
и она,
которая всегда отдаётся —
и остаётся с животом,
что у тебя остаётся только то,
что ты отдал.
Но царь отвечает:
«Собаке собачья смерть!» —
и начинает бомбить,
потому что он
мужчина, а не Соломон.

* * * *
From the Poem “Bed Rest”


Hospital –
it’s the world in miniature,
actually the motherland of birth.
The routine’s bed rest –
privileged, that means.
In other words,
Since time began, it’s been less than ideal:
it’s summer,
but the womenfolk
are here.
Here are women –
at the window,
Here are results –
at the window,
…Blood flows over half the sky
and at five a.m.
the highway’s more abstract than the Milky Way.
And nights lengthen with impunity.
I know what long nights are for:
to think.
To think clearly.
About different things.
But mostly –
about what’s exalted and fine.
For everyone in the world,
for these womenfolk.
For all whose body or spirit is weak.
…A woman’s realm.
snow drifting
on leaves, like salt.
Happiness doesn’t exist.
That’s long been clear.
Love does exist.
And pain
as a consequence.
That’s how this vale was made:
a tooth for an eye
and blood for love.
…A cross in the sky.
A hospital etching!
A moment exists.
And after –
…Not having medical connections,
I’m fated to know this world, to send
the apple-cheeked male nurse back
to his own effing mother, to tend
the hemorrhaging girl so she
survives until breakfast: always
diapers and more diapers, the need
to give someone a hand, to take
nobody’s old lady to the toilet,
trying – while observing utter
and total ruin – not to lose
…….all desire to someday give birth.
Из поэмы «Постельный режим»


Больница —
это мир в миниатюре,
отечество родимое в натуре.
Режим – постельный,
то есть элитарный.
Короче говоря,
От века в мире совершенства нету:
все бабы —
а бабье лето – где-то.
Здесь женщины,
а за окном —
Здесь следствие, —
а за окном —
…Кровит вполнеба, и уже с пяти
шоссе абстрактней Млечного Пути.
И ночи – безнаказанно длинны.
Я знаю, для чего они даны:
чтоб думать.
Думать доясна.
О разном.
Но больше —
о высоком и прекрасном.
За тех, кто в мире,
и за этих баб.
За всех, кто телом или духом слаб.
…Бабье царство.
лежащий на листьях, как соль.
Счастья нет.
Это ясно давно.
Есть любовь.
И как следствие – боль.
Так устроена эта юдоль:
зуб за око
и кровь за любовь.
…Крест на небе.
Больничный офорт!
Есть мгновенье.
А после —
…И, не имеющей медблата,
мне этот мир дано познать,
чтоб краснощёкого медбрата
к евонной матери послать,
чтоб истекающей девчонке
помочь до завтрака дожить:
всего-то навсего пелёнки,
всего-то руки приложить,
чтобы ничейную старуху
до туалета проводить,
чтобы тотальную разруху
не расхотеть родить.
* * * *
Once more on the battlefield someone moans

Once more on the battlefield someone moans
while up above circles a crow….
No motherland on earth is worth
those who give up life for her.
In the heavens the greatest glory
goes to those
…….…….who are worthy.
God sees why all this is needed –
A woman can’t see beyond her tears.
Снова в поле чистом кто-то стонет,
а над ним кружится воронье…
Никакая родина не стоит
тех, кто умирает за неё.
В небесах высокая награда
будет всем,
…….кто до неё дорос.
Видит Бог, кому всё это надо –
Женщина не видит из-за слёз.

© Inna Kabysh and Katherine E. Young

Inna Kabysh (b. 1963) is the author of six books of poetry: Lichnye trudnosti (1994), Detskiy mir (1996), Mesto vstrechi (2000), Detstvo, otrochestvo, detstvo (2003), Nevesta bez mesta (2008), and Mama myla ramu (2013). In 1996 Kabysh was awarded Russia’s Pushkin Prize. She is also an awardee of the Alfred Toepfer Fund (Hamburg, Germany) and winner of the Anton Delwig Prize (2005).

Katherine E. Young’s translations of Russian poet Inna Kabysh were awarded a share of the 2011 Joseph Brodsky-Stephen Spender Prize and commended by the judges of the 2012 Brodsky-Spender Prize: a dual-language edition of Kabysh’s poetry for the iPad is forthcoming from Artist’s Proof Editions. Young’s translations of Vladimir Kornilov appear in Russian Poetry from Pushkin to Brodsky (Penguin Classics, forthcoming). Day of the Border Guards, a book of Ms. Young’s original poems, was published in 2014 by the University of Arkansas Miller Williams award series. She has a website at

Back to Main Loch Raven Review Site

1 thought on “Inna Kabysh, translated by Katherine E. Young”

  1. yr reading at the Ivy was a high point- and so are these poems! I says this as a nazim hikmet communist

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s