Still Life with Potato Field

Anzhelina Polonskaya

Translated from the Russian by Andrew Wachtel


Tell me, why is there war
if not to leave buckles in lumps of clay?
The potato field sleeps.  At night you can’t guess
who’ll be lying down in the blue leaves by morning.

A cold year.  The train cars smell
of rubber boots, bodies, and exhalation.
A distant port wanders with ships
and in the crowd it’s easy to pass as a refugee.

Time marches on.  The clock face strides
with metal arrows, like a crane in the lagoon.
The bazaars are filled with traders,
while the moon’s saber edge slashes the cigarette smoke.

The house is like a white fish diving into the mist.
It’s been a long time since there was light in the window.
At the edge of the field a female figure freezes,
hiding potatoes in the folds of her skirt.

In the leaden air, where there’s no place for lungs,
you hear only the clang of a gate’s hasp.
For an instant the face looks out into the night,
then hides its grief behind sticky fingers.


Anzhelina Polonskaya was born in Malakhovka, a small town near Moscow, where she still lives and works. In 2004 an English version of her book, A Voice, was published in the Writings from an Unbound Europe series, and was shortlisted for the Popescu Prize for European Poetry in Translation. Polonskaya’s work has appeared in translation in many world poetry journals, including The Iowa Review, The Massachusetts Review, Prairie Schooner, Barrow Street, Poetry Daily, AGNI, The New England Review and others. A bilingual edition of her latest poems, Paul Klee’s Boat, has just come out with Zephyr Press.

Andrew Wachtel is the president of the American University of Central Asia in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan. Previously he was dean of The Graduate School and director of the Roberta Buffett Center for International and Comparative Studies at Northwestern University. His most recently published books are The Balkans in World History, Russian Literature and Remaining Relevant after Communism: The Role of the Writer in Eastern Europe. He has translated poetry and prose from Russian, Bosnian/Croatian/Serbian, Bulgarian and Slovenian.


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