ELKOST International Literary Agency

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Bad advice - selected poems translated from the Russian by Svetlana Payne

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by Grigory Oster

Sample translation by Svetlana Payne

Say, your Mummy and your Daddy
Have a lady-guest, and maybe
They are deep in some discussion,
Some profound adult chat,
What you do – you just tiptoe
From behind, and then, with gusto,
Bellow into her ear:
"Halt! Hands up! Lay down your arms!"

So when this important lady
Tumbles down from her chair,
Bringing down, onto her blouse,
Tea, or coffee, or sorbet,
Mum is sure to choke with giggles,
As for Dad – he'll feel accomplished,
And so proud of his offspring
He will shake your able hand!


If you are at home and cycling
Down your long and spacious hallway
And you suddenly spot your Daddy
Who is strolling up and down,

Don't you steer into the kitchen –
There a fridge, it's hard and rigid.
Crash into your Dad – it's shrewder.
Dad is soft. And he'll forgive.


Try to stay away from Mummy –
Out of mind and out sight,
For you never may be certain
What she takes into her head.
Now she makes you eat your veggies,
Now she starts to comb your hair.

She may stalk you from behind and
Send you shopping for some milk.
Or, she'd pop out from the kitchen
And insist you wash your hands.
Sure it is safer that this Mummy
You just never get to see.


If you plan on cadging something wonderful
From your parents, ask yourself in honesty,
"Can I say that I am worth it, really?
Have I been deserving and obedient?"
If you were – ask for twice as much in quantity.
If you weren't – make your pleading twice as woeful.

If you're running and you're followed
By some forty angry people –
Try to work it out quickly:
What's upsetting them so much?

You must listen to everybody,
Give a piece of good advice.
But it's strongly recommended
That you keep an even speed.


When you are leaving – bow politely
To the hosts of the party.
If you see that they're still sulking
You may simply shrug them off.

Such big deal! Their sofa's now
Somewhat soaked in the ketchup.
But you didn't want it there,
You were aiming at your plate!

True – some aubergines got spread
On their carpet in the lounge.
So to them a piece of rug
Is more precious than a person?

As for paintings made with jam
On their walls – what utter nonsense!
All you did – you left your name
On their wall as a memento!

Now the drinks – that's something else.
You did knock them off the table.
But it wasn't out of spite –
Just a clumsy use of elbows!

Smashing up their TV
Wasn't quite what you intended.
But to be completely frank –
It was far from being trendy!

And you missed, when with a ball
You were trying to hit the mirror.
As for those curvy cracks,
From the off they were there!

And you never left your footprints
Anywhere on the ceiling.
It was simply that your boots
Got just kicked around a little.

Clearly, you never gave
The laptop mouse to the kitten.
You just let him play with it,
And he promised to return it!

They are lying! You never hurled
Their phone out of the window!
And it hit this passer-by
Just because it proved so heavy.

And no one was going to
Put his feet into their pudding,
Though you had to disengage
A balloon from the chandelier,

Which, turned out, wasn't fixed
All that fast to their ceiling.
Had they done a proper job
It would never have been shattered

On those fire-fighters who
Tumbled in, all of a sudden,
Hosing down the coat-rack
Still on fire in the hallway.

And the coats on the rack
Never did you set on fire.
Just for added beauty, you
Stuck some candles in the pockets!

In the bathroom, you never did
Smash the toilet with a hammer.
And a hammer it was not,
Just a bottle of something bluish.

For some reason, it proved to be
So exceptionally slippy,
Now that was really why
Their toilet fell to pieces.

And the people who are so mean,
Finicky and unforgiving
Are bad news, and that is why
Never visit them in the future.