Jan. 21, 2002: Dust in the air near the ravine (Velimir Khlebnikov, trans. Paul Schmidt)

On Martin Luther King, Jr.’s holiday, we’ll hear from another King,
Velimir Khlebnikov (1885-1922). The only major collection of his work in
English is called "The King of Time," and he was obsessed with time,
numbers, and physics. He also wrote some pretty weird poems, although in
translation it’s perhaps hard to tell how weird they really are. I found a
section in the book made up of more-or-less poetic journal entries,
chronicling his time during the Russian Civil War, 1918-1920, when he
wandered from town to town suffering from severe hunger and disease–like
much of the population.

Dust in the air near the ravine
in the woods.
A crowd rushed out to the green hills,
to the three tall pines,
all of them hurrying, anxious–
sticks in their hands,
long beards at angles,
anxious and hurrying,
running and rushing, all of them,
grown-ups and children, it was hunger that did it.
They were trying to find the holy dirt,
the dirt you can eat just like bread
and never get sick from.
People were running. Rushing.
You’re all that we have left, now that
everything’s different!
Earth! Dirt!

-trans. Paul Schmidt


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