Genya Turovskaya was born in Kiev, Ukraine and grew up in New York City. She is the author of Calendar (UDP 2002) and And The Tides (Octopus Books 2007). Her poetry and translations from Russian have appeared in Chicago Review, Conjunctions, Gulf Coast, Aufgabe, A Public Space, Octopus, jubilat, and other publications. Her translation of Aleksandr Skidan's Red Shifting has recently been published by Ugly Duckling Presse. She has been the recipient of various awards and fellowships including a MacDowell Colony Fellowship, a Montana Artist Refuge Fellowship, the Witter Bynner Translation Residency at Santa Fe Art Institute, and a Fund for Poetry grant. She holds an MFA from Bard College and lives in Brooklyn, New York where she is the Associate Editor of the Eastern European Poets Series at Ugly Duckling Presse.

Red Shifting

Poem by Genya Turovskaya


Dear Jenny, I feel I am growing smaller,
the map on my lap is the world not the map of the world
and the steering wheel is one of those rings that are thrown
to the drowning to save them,
why do we need motels when we can sleep
in parking lots, your head on my lap, or mine on yours.
             It isn't rain, the windshield wipers wipe
clean the evening's insect swarms, they are invisible until they collide
with the glass.
Jenny, this is our house, the house we do not own
and this the portrait of the man who lived
here before, this is his spice rack and this
the hole he worried through the wool
blanket with his thumb, and this, Jenny, is his hunter's cap
and his one good shoe.
            Jenny, the pain is dull, it is cold,
it settles into the spine and smells of the ice cubes
that tinkle when my glass clinks with yours.
            Jenny, describe this little town
the mmm's of mountains, the aimless
dogs trotting the peripheries, sniffing at the ash and junk. I move toward you
and you move toward me, we lock together and come
apart, Jenny, how can I describe this love,
our bodies drying from the outside in. Jenny, who is the Jew
in Our Lady of Infinite Division, the imposter with the suitcase always packed
under the bed? Do you remember the yarn we spun
after we burned the kitchen chairs for heat, a variation on the line
from St. Paul, if I have not love I am but
a grinning bird in a gallows tree? Jenny, the line sometimes breaks, the church
is a book made of wood, and I feel empty as a tent
pitched in a one-horse town, and just off screen
a ruined city resurrects its water towers and television antennas,
as we tune the radio for local weather.
                                    Jenny, the letters of your name
mean something to someone other than you.
This table can be taken out from under me, and so can this chair,
then there is the part, unsayable, that no one wants, but you Jenny,
                                                             do you want it?
We went away but left our graffiti there, the initials of appreciative tourists
scratched into the fog. We lived in a house and slept in a bed and ate
                                                off of one another's plates.
Jenny, the thieves have come and gone,
they left their footprints on the sheets. When you strip, Jenny,
your body goes blunt. I can't
get inside you though I push and push, Jenny, tell me how
x becomes y, and y becomes z, but z does not


Dear Jenny, I feel I am growing older, and the girls,
the girls are so pretty, and I am no closer to being the boy that I was than I am
to the man I thought I would be. I'm a cross country skier, Jenny, I cross
from the livingroom into the bedroom, from the kitchen into the hall.
I turn on the television, I watch it snow, I turn off the television, and the snow
                                                                                   presses on.
                        Please Jenny, I need your attention
for the pleasure inside me to buck up like the colt
whinnying in the meadow of my slightest recollection of that day,
the one to which I am forever returning, my hand in the air, waving
down the taxis that stream past like a school of yellow fish.
And all I can think is: Jenny, we're getting this wrong!
           Just look around you i? the marionettes
are tangled in their strings, the lovers are putting on their clothes,
the blondes have taken their blondeness away, the brunettes
have taken their dark, wet eyes, and where are the troubadours,
                         those torchlight crooners, where have they taken
their quivering lutes?
                                     When I close my eyes, Jenny, I see everything
and everyone I have ever known falling at once, and I see the wind
                                                              which is made of fine blue wires
and clouds marching like animal armies across the sky: they are elephants
linked tail to trunk, and they fall too. If I could
have back but one small part of my diminishing mind, but one of the two
halves of my engorged heart I know I could fall asleep
in one place and wake up in another and it wouldn't matter how I got there,
                                                 but Jenny, the trees
are green as dollars, and still there is doubt. The boys race their scooters
down the sidewalks and still there is doubt.
The girls are so pretty, and still there is doubt. There is a woman
holding a child, and still there is doubt.
                        I mean nothing
more than this: we move
from one into another into a third room,
and only there do we live casually in false etcetera.


Dear Jenny, I think I am growing colder. It is cold today
                         and it will be cold tomorrow.
It rains today and it will rain tomorrow. It rained yesterday and the day before, and it will
          rain the day after. The newsprint bleeds and disintegrates
state secrets, red alerts, yellow, the moon, happiness, the molecular
structures of pulp,
                                  and still it persists.
I didn't want to keep going, Jenny, but the organism persists. It is feeding time again
        and the troths are filled.
I want to say that I have made something stop
moving: the sweeping machines, the weeping machines. I was ready
to commit acts of folly and great danger: Jenny, I have slipped
my books into your library, I've dog-eared the important passages, I've hidden
notes between the pages. They all say:
this letter was for her, then it was for no one, now it is for you.
                                   Jenny, I didn't want to live
but for the pocketful of seed in my coat, the packet of seed in the pocket of my greatcoat.
The lock of hair in the locket. There is rain in my shoes and there are flocks
                       of sparrows in the subway, and if ever
there was a call to love, this is it, Jenny. You came and then you fell, not like water
            but like concrete,
and all the trees are uprooted, waving their tentacles in the air,
and Jenny, it is much too quiet.

[First published in Chicago Review (2006)]