Inashortfiction's Blog

Penance for the Unsure

Posted in writing, short fiction by Psychopoliticus on December 7, 2015

You can live in a tower if you make elephants out of flies–

if you’re fascinated by a grain of rice.

It’s your prerogative to feel depressed–

You filter the world, so you can’t relax.

In Russia, poetry can be a profession–

in both senses.

You don’t have to be a necromancer

or drink Jack Daniels.

Who would have thought–

“Eight Days a Week” can be sung like a hymn,

You’ll do penance, ask mercy, for your pellucid whim.

You have the upper hand and you’re unsure?

Wish you came packaged with a brochure.

Maybe you’re afraid of aloneness, insecure–

But do you love me like Eisler loves Brasseur?

Before it seemed love asked us to do penance each time,

that our whims were pellucid, covered in primordial slime–

You can skid on the surface with hammers and knives–

but no human can manage to lie with their eyes.


Translation of Pushkin’s “Demon” (1823)

Posted in writing, short fiction by Psychopoliticus on June 29, 2013

I’ve remembered Pushkin. His portrait hangs in my research methods classroom because I guess that’s where the Russian department holds its classes. Most of his themes are so simple and so gripping at the same time. Tried my hand at translating. Really hard–he has Russian in a tight grip that’s hard to unravel. Here’s my translation of “Demon” (1823)


Those days, when were to me so novel

those grand impressions of my being

Glances of maidens, oaks’ quiet shuffle 

By night, the nightingale sings-

When grandiose, sublime emotion

And freedom, victory and love,

Art’s high inspired, insane devotion

So strongly stirred to rouse my blood,

Those hours of hope and of enjoyment

Then, suddenly, in fall’s drab longing,

Some evil genius’ deployment

to pay me surreptitious heed. 

Our meetings, they were always somber

His grin, most marvelous his glance

His acrid, ulcerous oration

Poured frigid poison ‘nto my hands.

With indefatigable slander,

he tempted my protected soul

He called through wondrous dreams with laughter

for he resented life’s high goal.

In love or freedom no believer,

he ogled living with a smirk

To nothing in all nature’s glory

give benediction did he want.    

A not-quite ghazal about John Thompson

Posted in own poetry by Psychopoliticus on January 3, 2011

I dreamt about Stilt Jack for years before I read it,
a Pnin crossed with a more forthright Bukowski.

Dreamt of a large Hunter-S.-Thompson breakfast,
with John– a man midst booze, fidelity.

I smiled just once, when he rhymed “too” and “kangaroo”,
this man, midst booze, responsibility.

My translation of A. Blok’s ДВЕ ЛЮБВИ (Two Loves)

Posted in poetry translations by Psychopoliticus on September 24, 2010

Two Loves

Of love that’s light, of love that’s foggy
has equally been known the path.
Each of them equally the soul desires,
But how to reconcile them best?

Not joinable, not in agreement,
Equal in kindness and in evil,
Although the first– serene and clear,
The second– dark, in disarray.

Impart to them an equal glory,
connect through mystery the two,
And, servant, wicked and so wayward,
Bring prey for both of them to chew!

But fear the punishment impending,
Be wary of the threatening finger:
Your joy and fire never-ending,
Are only ash and vanity!

My translation of Alexander Blok’s Я медленно сходил с ума

Posted in poetry translations by Psychopoliticus on September 13, 2010

And slowly I was going mad

next to the door of one I thirst for.

A day of spring removed by dark

that only fueled my thirst.

I wept, fatigued with lust,

And solemnly stifled my moans.

Already doubling, impending,

the ill and insane thought.

It snuck its way into the silence

of my soul, already mad,

And poured over my spring

a dark and insane wave.

The day of spring removed by dark,

The heart over the grave turned cold.

I slowly kept losing my mind,

as I thought coldly about her.


Posted in writing, short fiction by Psychopoliticus on January 20, 2010

Why am I standing here? 

These were the half-thoughts of a woman who worked at a bakery. All she could think of doing the entire day that she stood behind the register was to run home faster to her obelisk and call him by a diminutive name. 

She had an irresistible desire to call him by a diminutive name. When actually done, this ellicited suspicion; a calculating eye looked at her and moved. But why, she thought, should she have to justify this desire any more than why “red” means red. 

She didn’t actually think this of course– she only thought something like that. 

Often she came up to the obelisk while he was lying down and said “I love you”. Then said it louder. Then even louder. Then shouted. Well, she did not really shout. She only thought she was. 

Oftentimes she felt something analogous to these thoughts: It cannot be that the good times have already all long elapsed. And this is because–when I bring a child into the world and they will, at some time, look back upon their childhood with fondness and nostalgia, they will remember that I was a part of it–and that I was young then. But since that time has yet to come, surely the best times have not yet happened.

 Yet there was something perverse for sure in using a hypothetical offspring’s perspective as a unit of happiness. 

 When I awake in the morning, and I am happy about the sound of the pigeons and the dusty beam of light, then I will be living, she thought. Well, she did not really think this; she just felt something like it. 

 One day  she will be hit by a bolt of a realization that will probably send her into a fit of laughter: He is an alligator!

 Ah, then it will make sense why he likes to lie down and why he likes moisture. No wonder, she’ll think, he was unable to respond. He doesn’t speak a language!

But she does not know this yet. And her world seems narrow and cold as she stands behind the counter selling bagels. 

For a second, it frightened her that there was no fact of the matter about what she saw until she saw it. But it wasn’t so bad, now that she saw him as an alligator.  Perhaps he could keep the flies away.

Alluring lunacy

Posted in writing, short fiction by Psychopoliticus on December 7, 2009

Many times one finally comes upon alluring lunacy.  

 The only way to make the garden appear is to stand in front of it and make a certain expression with one’s eyes. Otherwise, it is simply not there, invisible. The moment you do this though, the garden will appear but if you try to walk into it, it’s gone.

On the other hand, if you don’t make any expression with your eyes and simply keep walking, maybe the garden will appear on its own and wait for you to walk into it. 

All of this made absolutely no sense to the little creature who was just born days ago in the foxhole even though it was warned this way by its mother.  How could it make any sense to never show that it wants to enter the garden, if all it wants is to enter the garden? 

When I want food, reasoned the little creature, I cry to show that I want food and my mother brings it to me. When I want to play, I come up to my sibling and paw him to show that I want to play.  So why cannot I show that I want very much to see the garden? 

But the fox cannot understand this yet. 

Third Arm

Posted in writing, short fiction by Psychopoliticus on September 21, 2009

Everyone in the family didn’t know what to do about the fact that their boy thought he had a third arm growing from the middle of his trunk.  In fact, it was highly embarrassing.  He was nurtured when he had influenza and everyone would gather around him. But not so with the arm!


“Well, why don’t you think that ,instead of a third arm, you have a million dollars or…or at least a Chinese Junk?”, the boy’s mother would say. “Or better than that–“, his father would say, “why don’t you pretend you’re a successful doctor? Put your imagination to good use!”


Once at an extended family dinner the boy was so preoccupied with his third arm that he kept crying out in agony; the arm would not stop suffocating him. 


“What’s the matter honey?”, asked a concerned relative.


“I have a third arm, and it won’t stop suffocating me”, sad the boy very directly. 


The embarrassment on the relative’s face was difficult to describe. She was looking away from the boy and smiling, as though smiling would make it all okay. 


“Maybe you can translate for grandma that I have a third arm and it won’t stop suffocating me. Otherwise she might feel hurt that I haven’t been spending enough time with her on her birthday”, requested the boy. 


But the relative was still looking away from him and still smiling. She didn’t want to associate with him. 


The Toad or The Ineffable Lightness of Being

Posted in writing, short fiction by Psychopoliticus on September 21, 2009


 “Come out, you miserable toad!”, said Gayne and prodded his creature with a ballpoint pen. The toad waddled out complacently from his cage and looked lovingly at his master. Gayne put a swollen fig into his own mouth and chewed. He was silent for a long time …..




Finally he said, “Today I have something special just for you” and reached out a palmful of pellets to his toad. 


Ah, so today must be August twenty-eighth, cognized the toad.  He was good at memorizing dates. 


“Eat, miserable toad!”, commanded Gayne, “I got these especially for you”. The toad began to eat obediently from Gayne’s palm. “But don’t eat all of them! You are eating too many. There will not be any left”.  The toad stopped eating and looked up at Gayne. He was hoping to not go back into the cage for just a little while longer.


“I was thinking I’d like to paint you yellow”, said Gayne. But by the time the words escaped his mouth, he had already begun to lose interest in the toad. He prodded the toad with a ballpoint pen again and his toad went obediently into the cage. 


Gayne drew a sheet over the cage and turned out the lights. As was usual for this hour, he attempted sleep.


* * *

Gayne was sitting at his little workstation, his desk. An array of pencils was strewn around him. He held one in his hand and with viscous lenition attempted to sketch something but his intention felt vague.  The lines he drew went on indefinitely. Then he felt a particular soreness in his neck. 


He had a thirst to lift his gaze but somehow abstained, as though he knew a great demon were awaiting him.  I will do it in just a second, he promised himself–much as he did when wanting to urinate at night.  But without further cogitation, he suddenly looked up and found himself staring straight at the face of his toad– pleading and calm, as always.


Gayne looked down immediately. When I look up again–he thought--it is not going to be there anymore. And he looked up again only to see the motionless face of the toad, imploring him with its gaze yet perfectly still. He tried again to no avail.


“I despise you, miserable toad!!!!” he shouted, nearly weeping and banged his fists on the workstation.  “Leave me alone! Go away!!!”, he cried. He tried swinging at the toad’s face but his fists went right through it like air.


Then a surge of dopamine rushed through his body. Of course! –thought Gayne--I’ll just get up and leave. And he would have laughed a hysterical laugh if only not for the sensation that there was no more to the world than his little workstation.  Indeed, he saw no more than the surface of the desk where he rested his elbows and the face of the toad against an indiscernible background. 


He panicked. 


“Get me out of here, miserable toad!” he wept. Then he whispered to the toad- “Tell me how I got here! I will do anything for you if you tell me!”. But the toad remained motionless.  “Do you want me to touch you? Is that it? Do you want me to kiss you?”, he cried.  He raised his body and attempted to osculate the toad, thereby osculating the air. He banged his fists on the desk.


Instantly, he stood up and tried to walk away from the desk. He even closed his eyes. And while he was certain he was walking, when he opened his eyes he was precisely where he started. 


He repeated the exercise with his eyes open. Again, he was certain he was walking but, as far he felt he had walked, he was always in exactly the same place when he stopped. 


“Alright, then I will keep walking!”, Gayne said defiantly. And he did. But the thought of what he would see once he stopped rendered the activity pointless after only a few minutes.  Besides, the scenery did not change as he walked, despite the sensation of motion and distance.


The gnawing of impossibility, loss and self-pity made him weep.  And for an instant it seemed to him that he must be dying since to remain in the moment was unbearable.


Yet, two seconds later, Gayne realized that he was exactly were he had been sitting before he panicked.


He picked up his pencil again and began to sketch.  He focused intensely on sketching. For a moment it seemed to him that nothing is wrong.  After all, this life was not much at variance with what he was used to.  I’m still exactly the same–thought Gayne with restrained glee. Nothing has changed; I still despise the toad and I still do my sketches.  


“Hey toad!!! toad!! Miserable toad!” he cried out in mockery and joy, and looked up at the face of the motionless toad.  As always, the pleading, slavish face of the toad induced nausea and hatred in him, stabbed him with discomfort, even pain. But this always happens when I look at the toad! -he thought happily. 


“You want some of me, don’t you?”, he mocked. “Well, be patient and maybe you will get what you want”, laughed Gayne. A lightness engulfed him, an ineffable lightness of being. 

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The Burden

Posted in writing, short fiction by Psychopoliticus on September 10, 2009

He called his old self “topaz”, a clandestine name. Each time he was alone now, he thought of a line from Heine with bittersweet ideation: sleep is so good, death is better, yet/ surely never to have been born is best. He thought of Lorca’s “Llagas de Amor” but in a completely different context, as though his separation from himself was like an ulcer. And he knew not why he woke up that morning and suddenly everything was different, and every step he took was not free because the thought of the burden cycled through his conscious mind every few seconds. But there was nothing the matter but the sensation of the burden. If only he did not have to live the paradox– for no external cause compelled the sensation.

At the outset, he attempted suffering, on the analogy that a headache vanishes with sufficient endurance. This lasted only a short while. Then he attempted distraction; he gyrated and sang repetitive songs in his mind to pass the time. He had a special thought reserved for particularly trying moments; “if it gets too bad, I will run away”; he thought often of running away but each time he would start he would remember that his body ran with him.

Not long after, of course, he decided to see a doctor. What amazed him was the stratification of labor and displacement to authority; the nurse was there solely to poke him with a needle for the purposes of drawing blood. It was not possible to ask her for any assistance or advice. The specialists he was referred to only commented on the specific body part under consideration. It was a category error to ask them other questions, he learned. After learning that nothing is wrong, he stopped going to doctors. Medicine has not yet reached the Cartesian realm, he decided.

After a while, he became audacious. If never having been born is best, then what of all the things I might as well do?, he thought. And he remembered all of the things he had wanted to do before the onset of the burden and now, like a laundry list, he would complete them on principle despite the lack of corresponding dopamine surge that accompanied each action. He bought a violin, and also a dog. He learned how to program. He went to beaches, rode on trains, particularly enjoying dismounting at arbitrary locations. He became impulsive too. He slept with countless women and men.

Months passed and he broke down. He was especially influenced by normative ideas now since before the burden he suffered from seclusion. It is accepted, thought he, that when we suffer we seek wisdom from external sources. So he went to his grandfather. After all, he had been through famine and war. And he implored him: why do things not feel the same? why do I feel this way? He described in nearly poetic detail the sensations and limitations of the burden, and he remembered the precise moment of its onset. He recounted each stage of the struggle, and each realization. His grandfather was unfazed: “What you describe is the way everyone feels. Everyone feels this way!”