Skip to main content

Osip Mandelstam, Untruth, translated by Ian Probstein

I come with a smoking torch
In the hut of a six-fingered untruth:
— Let me look at you, let me watch,
Since I’ll be laid in a pine coffin, struth.

She treats me with pickled mushrooms,
Takes a pot from under her plank-bed
And serves a fresh nourishing broth
Cooked from infant belly buttons.

‘When I want,’ she says, ‘I’ll pour you some more . . .’
I am so scared can barely breathe.
Try to run, no go — she
Grabbed my shoulder, dragged me back.

Peace and moss in her hut, nice and lice,
In the back of beyond bedroom-cell.
You are good, you are good, all is nice . . .
We are birds of one feather –– in hell.

4 April 1931

see also Probstein’s translation and discussion of Mandelstam’s Stalin epigram.