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2. (IF YOU CUT OFF YOUR RIGHT HAND)
If you come to the palace with a sword,
the door is closed to you.
If you come without a sword, but with a key,
you are welcome, my friend Brutus.
If you cut off your left hand and leave it lying on the ground,
it will grow miraculous berries
to cure everything,
except the inability to think.
If you cut off your right hand and bury it in the garden,
it will grow into a little daughter with wings instead of arms.
And if you take my brain on a tray to the forest,
it will grow into Vasilisa the Wise*,
that you, with all of your famous wisdom, will be just a chip on her shoulder.
And did you know that Vasilisa has a silk handkerchief,
which makes thousands like you keep mum?
And you, too, keep mum, yes, you, too
If you cut off your leg and serve it to the king for dinner,
what will you get?
You’ll be praised,
promoted to a higher rank,
maybe even promoted to valet,
without being asked
whether or not you want the promotion.
So it is much better, my friend, that you do not cut off
your foot or your hand,
and live as you are, whole,
or who knows where your self-sacrifice will take you
and on whose dinner plate your neck will end up.
* Vasilisa the Wise – a character in Russian fairy tales
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.