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Mayakovsky_1915On a January night in 2019 at the Russian Samovar in New York City, these lines from Mayakovsky’s “Cloud in Trousers” were read aloud. If Vlad had been there, this is how he would have looked. –– DL

You who
next to me
are rank amateurs
in the realms
of sacrilege,
and mayhem —
have you laid eyes on
the most terrifying thing
in the world –
my face
when I am totally calm,
cool and collected?

I fear
my ego
isn’t big enough
for the rest of me
is struggling
to emerge
as a full-born youth
from a Madonna’s womb.


Who’s there?
Your son is sick, magnificently so.
His heart’s on fire.
Tell his sweet sisters
in all of Russia there’s nowhere
he can take refuge.

The words he spits out,
the jokes he cracks,
flee from his scorching mouth
like naked women
jumping out the windows
of a burning brothel.

The stink of burnt flesh is in the air.

The fire brigade drives up
in a shiny new red truck,
the men with their helmets on.
But no hobnailed jackboots here.
Tell those guys to tread softly
when a heart’s on fire.
Look, I’ll show you what to do.
I’ll pump buckets of tears from my eyes.
I’ll save the one last survivor,
the thirteenth apostle,
who lives in my heart
and wants to leap to his freedom.

In vain.

You can’t leap out of your heart.

From the crack of the lips
on my smoldering face
the cinder of a kiss tries to escape.

I can’t sing!
In the chapel of my heart the choir’s on fire!

— as rendered by David Lehman

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