a poem about Lillebror and Karlsson

NB: Karlsson on the Roof and its sequels, the children's books by Astrid Lindgren (best known in the English-speaking world for her Pippi Longstocking), are immensely popular in Russia, where they served as the basis for a beloved cartoon series. Their main characters are a little boy called Lillebror ("Junior") and a chubby little man named Karlsson who lives on the roof. Karlsson flies by means of a propeller on his back, activated by a special button on his belly. He is tremendously arrogant and gluttonous and tends to get Lillebror into trouble; he repeatedly describes himself as "handsome, clever, and moderately plump."

. . . Karlsson hocked a loogie past 
the trashcan and flew away 
– Danila Davydov

for the sake of hoarse voices in nighttime stores
for the sake of warm hearts under passenger car hoods
into city center at midnight fly the souls of handsome
clever and moderately plump men

they seize cafés and gas stations
these zealots of wrinkled laundry
nightmare of the nation's national defense
one of them is you or possibly me

they blow their alcohol-stale breath on stars
they scare off crows in squares
and bats are in your Stockholm rafters
in a neighborhood engulfed by weeds

you wait while your black eye fades
wake up dead and stop sleeping altogether
and one fine day read on the kitchen wall:
"You'll never grow up Lillebror"

life handles us with one swipe
while autumn strangles us from all sides
and only the moon glows above the bar
like a Swedish five-crown piece

and just sniffing the cork makes us drunk
we go down with the grace of a wounded ship
but by habit we search for the button on belly
in case the earth slips out from underfoot

Translation from the Russian 
By Kevin M. F. Platt & Maya Vinokour

Igor Belov was born in 1975 in St. Petersburg and currently lives in Kaliningrad. He is the author of two books of poetry: Ves' etot dzhazz (2004; All that jazz) and Muzika ne dlia tolstykh (2008; Music not for fat people). His poetry has been translated into Swedish, German, Polish, Estonian, Ukrainian, and Belorussian, and he has been recognized with awards and grants in Russia, Sweden, and Poland.

For a biographical profile of Kevin M. F. Platt, see Poetry in the Cloud: An Experiment, Results, and n+1 HypothesesMaya Vinokour is a second-year doctoral student in the Program in Comparative Literature and Literary Theory at the University of Pennsylvania, specializing in themes of spectatorship in modern Russian and German literature. Also a translator, Vinokour won Academia Rossica's Young Translator Award in 2011.

For a biographical profile of Kevin M. F. Platt, see "Poetry in the Cloud: An Experiment, Results, and n+1 Hypotheses".


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