Selected Translations

Daniel Kharms
Translated by Nikita Pavlov

1. Blue Notebook # 10

There once lived a red-haired man who had no eyes and no ears. He had no hair, either, so people called him red-haired merely for convenience.

He could not speak, since he had no mouth. He also had no nose.

He even had no arms and no legs. And he had no stomach, and he had no back, and he had no spine, and he had no internal organs. He had nothing whatsoever! So we don’t even know whom we’re discussing.

We better not talk about him anymore.

2. Occurrences

Orlov once ate too many mashed peas and died. And Krylov, having heard of this, also died. And Spiridonov died all by himself. And Spiridonov’s wife fell off the cupboard and also died. And Spiridonov’s children drowned in a pond. And Spiridonov’s grandma got drunk and became a bum. And Mikhailov stopped combing his hair and got infested with fleas. And Kruglov painted a lady with a whip and became insane. And Perekhrestov received $400 in the mail and became so snooty that he was kicked out of his job.

Good people just can’t organize their life.

3. Defenestrating Hags

One old hag, because of her extreme curiosity, fell out of a window and died.

Another hag leaned out the window and began staring down at the fallen, but from her extreme curiosity also fell out of the window and died.

Then a third hag fell from a window, then a fourth, then a fifth.

When a sixth hag fell from a window, I got bored watching them, and so I went to the marketplace where, at least so they say, a blind man had received a free woolen shawl.

4. Sonnet

An incredible thing happened to me: I forgot which comes first, 7 or 8.

I went to my neighbors and asked them for advice on this matter.

Imagine their surprise and mine when they suddenly discovered that they couldn’t remember the order, either. 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, and 6 they could recall, but what comes next they forgot.

We all got up and went to the convenience store, the one on the corner of Znamenskaya and Basseinaya streets, and asked the cashier about our contingency. The cashier smiled sadly, removed a little gavel from her mouth, and, slightly wiggling her nose, replied:

“I believe that seven comes after eight only in the case when eight goes after seven.”

We thanked the cashier and ecstatically ran outside. But then, having pondered about her words some more, we became despondent again, for her reply seemed to us to be devoid of any meaning.

What could we do? We went to the Summer Park and started counting trees. But having reached the sixth tree, we stopped and began to argue: some thought that the next tree should be the seventh, others that it was the eighth.

We would have argued for quite some time, but thankfully, some kid fell off the bench and broke both his jaws. That distracted us from our argument.

And then we went home.

6. Optical Illusion

Semyon Semyonovich, having put on his glasses, looks at a pine and sees that up in the pine there sits a dude who’s showing him a fist.

Semyon Semyonovich, having removed his glasses, looks at the pine and sees that there is no one there.

Semyon Semyonovich, having put on his glasses, looks at the pine and again sees that up in the pine there sits a dude who’s showing him a fist.

Semyon Semyonovich, having removed his glasses, looks at the pine and again sees that there is no one there.

Semyon Semyonovich, again having put on his glasses, looks at the pine and again sees that up in the pine there sits a dude who’s showing him a fist.

Semyon Semyonovich refuses to believe this phenomenon and calls it an optical illusion.

9. The Trunk

A man with a scrawny neck climbed into a trunk, shut the lid after himself, and began suffocating.

"There," spoke, suffocating, the man with a scrawny neck, "I am suffocating in the trunk because I have a scrawny neck. The lid of the trunk is shut and lets no fresh air inside. I will be suffocating, but I still won’t open the lid of the trunk. Gradually I shall begin to die. I shall witness the battle of life and death. The battle will be unnatural, with both sides having an equal chance, because naturally death triumphs, and life, doomed to death, only futilely wrestles with the foe, till the last moment not relinquishing the vain hope. But in this battle, the one taking place right now, life will know a way to win: for that, life just has to force my hands to open the lid of the trunk. We shall see: who’ll prevail? Only it smells so horribly of mothballs! Should life triumph, I shall start using naphthalene for the things in the trunk instead… Here it goes: I can no longer breathe. I am doomed, it is clear! Nothing can save me now. And there are no exalted thoughts left in my mind at all. I am suffocating!...

"Oy! What was that? Just now, something happened, but I can’t understand what. I’d seen something or I’d heard something...

"Oy! Again something happened? Dear God! I cannot breathe, I must be dying...

"Now what could this be? How come I’m singing? I think my neck hurts... but where is the trunk? Why is it that I see everything in my room? Well, what do you know! I’m lying down on the floor! But where is the trunk?"

The man with a scrawny neck got up from the floor and looked around. The trunk was nowhere to be seen. Strewn around on the chairs and bed were all the things taken out of the trunk, and the trunk was nowhere to be seen.

The man with a scrawny neck said:

"So, it seems that life defeated death in an entirely mysterious manner."*

*[Note: in Russian, both “life” and “death” are in the nominative case, making it debatable which is the subject and which is the object.]

10. Incident with Petrakov

Once upon a time Petrakov decided to go to sleep, but missed the bed when lying down. He hit the floor so hard that he couldn’t get up and continued to lie there.

In a few moments, Petrakov gathered all his strength and got up on all fours. But his strength left him, and he collapsed again on his stomach.

Petrakov lay on the floor some five hours. At first he just lay there, but then he fell asleep.

The sleep renewed Petrakov’s strength. He awoke completely healthy, got up, paced the room a few times, and carefully settled down into the bed. “Now,” he thought, “now I shall finally get some sleep.” But all the sleep had evaporated. Petrakov kept tossing and turning from side to side but just couldn’t fall asleep.

Actually, that’s all there is to it.

11. The Story of a Fight

Alexei Alexeevich wrestled down Andrei Karlovich, pummeled at his face, and released him.

Andrei Karlovich, pale with rage, lunged at Alexei Alexeevich and hit him in the teeth.

Alexei Alexeevich, not expecting such a rapid retaliation, collapsed on the floor. Andrei Karlovich sat on top of him, pulled out his prosthetic jaw, and set to work on Alexei Alexeevich so thoroughly that Alexei Alexeevich got up from the floor with an utterly disfigured face and a torn nostril. Holding his face with his hand, Alexei Alexeevich ran away.

Andrei Karlovich wiped clean his prosthetic jaw, put it back in his mouth, having made sure that the jaw fit properly, looked around, and, not seeing Alexei Alexeevich anywhere, went to search for him.

12. The Dream

Kalugin goes to sleep and dreams that he sits in the bushes while past the bushes walks a policeman.

Kalugin wakes up, scratches his mouth, and again goes to sleep, and dreams that he walks past the bushes while in the bushes sits a policeman.

Kalugin wakes up, puts a newspaper on the pillow so as not to wet the pillow with his dripping saliva, again goes to sleep, and again dreams that he sits in the bushes while past the bushes walks a policeman.

Kalugin wakes up, changes the newspaper, lies down and goes back to sleep. In his sleep, he dreams again that he walks past the bushes while in the bushes sits a policeman.

Now Kalugin wakes up and decisively vows not to sleep anymore, but immediately falls asleep and dreams that he sits behind the policeman while past the policeman walk the bushes.

Kalugin screams and convulses but can no longer wake up.

Kalugin sleeps for four days and four nights, and awakens on the fifth day so emaciated that he has to tie his boots to his feet with a string to prevent them from falling off. In the bakery where he always buys white bread, he isn’t recognized and is instead given a loaf of half-rye. And the sanitary committee, inspecting the apartments and seeing Kalugin, announces him unsanitary and unusable and orders the janitor to throw him out with the trash.

Kalugin is folded in two and tossed into the garbage chute.

15. Four illustrations of an effect an unexpected idea can have on the listener who is unprepared for it.

I. WRITER: I’m a writer.
READER: Well, I think you’re a piece of sh*t.
(The WRITER remains still for a few minutes, shocked by this new idea, and falls down, dead. He is carried out.)

II. ARTIST: I’m an artist.
WORKER: Well, I think you’re a piece of sh*t.
(The ARTIST blanches like a canvas, starts swaying like a blade of grass, and suddenly expires. He is carried out.)

III. COMPOSER: I’m a composer.
VANYA RUBLEV: Well, I think you’re a piece of sh*t.
(The COMPOSER, breathing hard, slowly slides down the wall. He is carried out.)

IV. CHEMIST: I’m a chemist.
PHYSICIST: Well, I think you’re a piece of sh*t.
(The CHEMIST, unable to speak, heavily collapses on the floor.)

16. Losses

Andrei Andreevich Myasov bought a wick at a marketplace and went to bring it home.

On his way back, Andrei Andreevich lost the wick and went into a store to buy one hundred and fifty grams of Poltavian sausage. Then Andrei Andreevich stopped by the dairy and bought a bottle of milk, and then drank a small cup of kvass and got into the line for a newspaper. The line was fairly long, and Andrei Andreevich waited in line for twenty minutes; but when he finally approached the kiosk, they suddenly ran out of newspapers.

Andrei Andreevich shuffled in place and went home, but on the way there he lost his milk, turned into a bakery, purchased a croissant, but lost the Poltavian sausage.

After that Andrei Andreevich went straight home, but on his way he slipped, fell, lost the croissant, and broke his glasses.

Andrei Andreevich came home very furious and immediately went to bed, but for a long time couldn’t fall asleep, and when he did he dreamed that he lost his toothbrush and was brushing his teeth with some candelabra.

23. Mashkin killed Koshkin

Comrade Koshkin was dancing around Comrade Mashkin.

Comrade Mashkin was watching Comrade Koshkin.

Comrade Koshkin insultingly swayed his arms and disgustingly twisted his legs.

Comrade Mashkin frowned.

Comrade Koshkin wiggled his belly and tapped with his right foot.

Comrade Mashkin cried out and lunged for Comrade Koshkin.

Comrade Koshkin tried to flee but tripped and was caught by Comrade Mashkin.

Comrade Mashkin hit Comrade Koshkin on the head with a fist.

Comrade Koshkin shrieked and dropped down on all fours.

Comrade Mashkin slammed Comrade Koshkin in the stomach with his foot and again hit him on the back of the head with his fist.

Comrade Koshkin fell flat on the floor and died.

Mashkin killed Koshkin.

31. A Fable

One not very tall man once says, "I would do anything, if only I could become a bit taller." The moment he says it, poof – he sees before him a fairy. And the not very tall man stands there, struck numb with fear.

"Well?" says the fairy. But the not very tall man stands there silently. The fairy vanishes. Now the not very tall man starts crying and biting his nails from grief. First he bites off the fingernails, then the toenails.

***

Reader, think carefully about the moral of this fable and tremble.

32. Conversation

Two men once got to talking. And one of the men would stutter on the vowels, and the other on vowels and consonants.

When they stopped talking, serenity ensued. As though a kerosene stove got turned off.

34. Symphony #2

Anton Mikhailovich spit, said “eh,” spit again, said “eh” again, spit again, said “eh” again, and left. Oh, well. Better let me tell you about Ilya Pavlovich.

Ilya Pavlovich was born in 1883 at Constantinople. As a little boy, he was brought to St. Petersburg, and there he completed the German school at Kiroch Street. After that he worked at some store, then did something or other, and then immigrated when the revolution started. Oh, to heck with him. Better let me tell you about Anna Ignatievna.

But I can’t tell you too much about Anna Ignatievna, either. First, I know almost nothing about her, and second, I have just fallen off the chair and forgotten what I was talking about. Better let me tell you about myself.

I am tall, clever, dress elegantly and with taste, don’t drink, don’t gamble, but am attracted to ladies. And the ladies don’t avoid me, either. Miss Ismailovna has invited me over on numerous occasions, and Miss Yakovlevna also insists that she is always glad to see me. Now, Miss Petrovna – there’s a funny story that I should mention. The story is rather mundane, but still amusing, for Miss Petrovna, thanks to me, went completely bald, like the palm of a hand. Here’s how it happened: I came over to her place once, and wham! – she went bald. That’s it.

40. A Fairy Tale

Once upon a time there was a man by the name of Semyonov.

This Semyonov once went for a walk and lost his handkerchief.

Semyonov went to search for his handkerchief and lost his hat.

He went to look for his hat and lost his jacket. He started to search for his jacket and lost his boots.

"Man," said Semyonov, "I’ll end up losing everything this way. Perhaps I should go home."

Semyonov went home and got lost.

"Naw," said Semyonov, "Maybe I should just sit down."

Semyonov sat down on a stone and fell asleep.

41. The Northern Fairy Tale

An old man, not knowing why, went into the woods. He came back and called, "Hey, old woman!" His old woman heard and collapsed. And ever since then the hares are white in the winter.

45. Forgot What It’s Called

One Englishman couldn’t remember the name of that bird.

"That," he would say, "is a kurkey. No, wait, not a kurkey, but a kureckeky. Or wait, not a kureckeky, but a kurkareky. Dang it! Not a kurkareky, but kukrekereky. No, not kukrekereky, it’s kurkureckereky."

Would you like me to tell you a story about this kurkey? That is, not a kurkey, but kureckeky? Or no, not kureckeky, kurkareky? Argh! Not kurkareky, but kukrekereky. No, not kukrekereky – kurkureckereky! Dang, wrong again! Kukrekekereky? No, couldn’t be kukrekekereky. Kurkerekereky? No, still wrong!

I forgot the name of that bird. But had I remembered, I would have told you the story about this kurkurekerekekrekereky.

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