Daniil Kharms

Translated by Eugene Ostashevsky and Matvei Yankelevich

 

Daniil Kharms was one of the ringleaders of Leningrad's avant-garde OBERIU group until it was forcibly disbanded in 1931. Arrested in 1941, he feigned madness to avoid the firing squad and died in an insane asylum.

 

ONE FAT MAN

One fat man invented a way to lose weight. And he lost it. The ladies began pestering him, trying to pry out his secret. But the thin man replied that it becomes men to lose weight, whereas it does not become ladies at all; that ladies, on the contrary, ought to be full-figured. And he was absolutely right.

Mid-1930s; translated by Eugene Ostashevsky

 

CAN YOU THROW A ROCK AS FAR AS THE MOON?

The night was very dark. It's true that the stars shone, but their light wasn't helpful. You could not make anything out. Maybe there was a tree right here, or maybe a lion, or maybe an elephant, or maybe nothing. But then the moon rose and it became light. Then a cliff sprung into view, and the cave in the cliff, and the field to the left, the river to the right, and the forest over the river.

>From the cave two apes emerged on all fours. They rose, stood on their hind legs, and began walking unsteadily, swaying their long arms.

Mid-1930s; translated by Eugene Ostashevsky

 

HOLIDAY

On the roof of a certain building two draftsmen sat eating buckwheat kasha.

Suddenly one of the draftsmen shrieked with joy and took a long handkerchief

out of his pocket. He had a brilliant idea--he would tie a twenty-kopeck coin into one end of the handkerchief and toss the whole thing off the roof down into the street and see what would come of it.

The second draftsman quickly caught on to the first one's idea. He finished his buckwheat kasha, blew his nose and, having licked his fingers, got ready to watch the first draftsman.

As it happened, both draftsmen were distracted from the experiment with the handkerchief and twenty-kopeck coin. On the roof where both draftsmen sat an event occurred which could not have gone unnoticed.

The janitor Ibrahim was hammering a long stick with a faded flag into a chimney.

The draftsmen asked Ibrahim what it meant, to which Ibrahim answered: "This means that there's a holiday in the city."

"And what holiday would that be, Ibrahim?" asked the draftsmen.

"It's a holiday because our favorite poet composed a new poem," said Ibrahim.

And the draftsmen, shamed by their ignorance, dissolved into the air.

9 January 1935; translated by Matvei Yankelevich

 

FABLE

One man of medium height said: "I would give anything if only I were even a little bit taller."

He barely said it when he sees a lady medegician standing in front of him.

"What do you want?" says the medegician.

But the man of medium height just stands there so frightened he can't even speak.

"Well?" says the medegician.

The man of medium height just stands there and says nothing. The medegician vanished.

And the man of medium height started crying and biting his nails. First he chewed off all the nails on his fingers, and then on his toes.

Reader! Think this fable over and it will make you very uncomfortable.

1935; translated by Eugene Ostashevsky

 

THE LECTURE

Pushkov said:

"What is woman? An engine of love,"--and immediately got punched in the face.

"What for?" asked Pushkov but, receiving no answer, continued:

"This is what I think: you have to roll up to women from below. Women love that, they only pretend they don't."

Here Pushkov was again socked in the face.

"What's going on, comrades? Fine, if that's the case, I won't even talk!" said Pushkov but, after a quarter of a minute, continued:

"Women are arranged in such a way that they are all soft and moist."

Here Pushkov again got socked in the face. Pushkov tried to look as if he didn't notice anything and continued:

"If you sniff a woman..."

But here Pushkov got smashed in the face so hard that he grabbed his cheek and said:

"Comrades, it is absolutely impossible to lecture under such conditions. If this happens again, I won't talk!"

Pushkov waited a quarter of a minute and continued:

"Where were we? Oh--yes! So: Women love to look at themselves. They sit down in front of the mirror totally naked..."

As he said that word he was punched in the face again.

"Naked," repeated Pushkov.

"Pow!" they whacked him in the face.

"Naked!" shouted Pushkov.

"Pow!" he got punched in the face.

"Naked! Naked everywhere! Tits and ass!" shouted Pushkov.

"Pow! Pow! Pow!" they kept punching him in the face.

"Tits and ass with a washtub!" Pushkov was shouting.

"Pow! Pow!" the punches rained down.

"Tits and ass with a tail!" shouted Pushkov, spinning to avoid the punches.

"Naked nun!"

But then Pushkov was hit with such force that he lost consciousness and fell, as if mowed down, upon the floor.

12 August 1940; translated by Eugene Ostashevsky