And you, who came in here wearing rings, but without your head, leave your rings by the door, and put your head on: heads are hanging on hooks like hats. It is unbecoming to enter my house without a hat. Whichever head you take off the hook, that head will be yours: if you take a murderer’s head. you will become a murderer; if you take a fool’s head, you will become a fool. But if you’re lucky enough to get a wise man’s head, you’ll live your whole life as a wise man. You get what you deserve, as they say. You get what you — for not being able to tell the difference between a good head and a bad one, for not knowing, not understanding, not being able to. And if you start whining on your way to your execution, “All heads on hooks look the same, the head of a wise man, the head of a fool, the head of a murderer…” Whine all you want — you are the bearer of your head, not me, you are its owner and its master, and you will be held accountable, not I. And, you know, it is not you who will be led to a scaffold, no, not you, fool with someone else’s head of a murderer, but the lucky man with that wise man’s head: isn’t it foolish to choose a head in a dressing-room like a hat, without bothering to see what’s inside it?
Note: these poems were originally written in Russian and translated into English by the poet.
Nina Kossman, born in Moscow, is a poet, memoirist, playwright, translator of Russian poetry, editor, and artist. Currently she lives in New York.
Copyright 2022 poem, artwork and photograph by Nina Kossman.