THE MIDDLE ROAD
He asked, “Why the lab coat, you say? We wear them deliberately.
We do client assessments,
I mean, client surveys, in all our stores.
It turns out lab coats impress them.
Especially the hysteroids.
We’ll begin by suppressing vitality considerably.
I mean, yours.
We have pharmaceuticals.
It’s a secret formula, but in part they’re just good old steroids.
Your vitality will be, as we say, down for declension, his up for ascension,
Until there’s a middle road that we can discern.
Otherwise, you two won’t experience mutual comprehension.
Side effects? Well, constant heartburn. Your stomach will burn.
To treat it, sodium bicarbonate is the only thing you can take.
You’ll keep forgetting words, tasks, eating candy right with the wrappers.
But that won’t last forever. It’s only three months, give or take.
We are not gods, you see. We are just guessers, plodders, scrappers.
Our success, to be honest, is part science, part chance, and
There is a small part of what we might call quantum magic.
People always talked to the dead; it’s just that the dead never answered.
People searched for the Water of Life, but it’s not even fully a substance, and definitely nothing pelagic.
How do I explain it? Let’s say you buy yarn for knitting,
Just a skein (I always think it’s pronounced skin)
And you find that the yarn is rather loosely sitting
Inside that paper tube it comes in.
It’s hard to knit when it’s loose. Tear off the paper wrap,
Smoosh it, wind the yarn on, so it gets more tightly wound.
Now, we have us a hard ball of yarn with smoother nap,
With the paper inside, and the wrap being yarn all around.
That’s a loose description. Honestly? Don’t be so horrified.
Yes, you want to understand, yes, we all want to know what the plan is,
Yet, you don’t seem perturbed that your living world has been greatly
With no paper postage, cuckoo clocks, LPs or those guys who tune pianos.
Yes, concerns exist, but they shouldn’t seem so weighty.
Yes, right now your prospects may look a little squalid,
But think! Even folks who change their views in a full one-eighty
Inside appear to themselves uninterrupted and solid.
But let’s return to your conversation partner, now a new cadaver.
Keep it in mind that, to life, he’ll be merely a neighbor.
As a being, at this point, he will be largely a cavern,
His existence, as such, a feat of unspeakable labor.
His ability to talk will depend on the levels of fuel.
Most things they say in a dialogue, alas, are social cliches.
It’s true even for those couples whose live dancing used to be so sharply dual
That the bystanders thought it polite to avert their gaze.
If you are serious about this, we’ll let you see one sample before committing.”
He took me out in the hallway and lead me across and through,
Then gave me a small Bluetooth earbud for transmitting,
And opened a door in the wall, small like a door for a clock cuckoo.
In the oculus, an old grey-haired man loudly asked his addressee,
“How are you? Are you frightened? I need to know! Are you in pain?”
Ramrod-straight in her seat, a dead woman with the face of Empress Dowager Cixi
Synthesized her reply: “It’s warm. We’re in for some rain.”
The white coat said: “They have real trouble forming verbs, as a rule.
But for many, even such conversations prove invaluable.
We’re in big demand now, so, for our seances, we rent school after school.
The classrooms are set up just right, and the schools stand empty, so they are available.”
One more time, I looked at the scene through that small magnifier,
I saw those two sitting, divided by their middle road, each in a separate bay,
I remembered my own gaping hole, my own desert on fire,
And I said: “Okay, I will try it. How do I pay?”
Self-translation from Russian
Anna Krushelnitskaya (b.1975) lives in Ann Arbor, MI. Anna’s original texts and translations appear in Russian and in English in various print and online publications. She has authored two collections of English poems. Anna’s most voluminous work is the 700-page bilingual interview collection Cold War Casual/ Простая холодная война (2019).
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