Paula Abul: Горчивник

Paula Abul reading ‘Gorchivnik’

I still think of you as a quiet man,
the kind of man who, stepping
in plainly human shit on
a riverbank could scrape himself 
clean in silence, who wouldn’t even 
wrinkle his nose because gestures 
are words and why speak when не нужно.

it’s my duty as a daughter to flatten you
into something I can hold, tuck you into 
the top of my boot and call it growth. 
горе живое и ржавит тебя. 

how sweet and baffling then,
your застольный routine
me – aghast,
you – lining them up:

          3 chillies (green), 
          2 cloves garlic (raw), 
          1 teaspoon mustard (hot english)

with hands soaked in method 
you’d deliver each one, and I’d 
brace for the tears and the thunder
горчит! алxамдулилла, горчит!

it seems to me now the 
most adult thing, to twist in the
heat and call it pleasure.

I think if Openness had eyes they’d 
be fringed in fine gold petals, холуд
dancing down her arms, gauzy орна
flapping in the sticky жар.

на его месте, у нас есть холод, 
Российская верность, склизкие
слова напиханные в шершaвыe
чемоданы, a language that casts
mustard in sorrow’s shadow. 

now I buy шориша oil labelled
‘for human consumption’ and
think of a yellow so bright it
seems lit with sin, a lurking vapour
like sirens, capable of firing twelve 
rounds into your sinuses with a laugh. 

I stepped in shit by the river too, 
caked it deep in the grooves of
my self-conscious boots
and the crescent boats curling
towards the sky rocked as my cries
thundered across the Подда. 


Paula Abul is a poet, linguist, and illustrator living in Naarm. Through a quirk of Soviet international education policies, they have grown up communicating with their Bangladeshi father in Russian, a language neither of them is entirely fluent in. This particular situation has been both beautiful and isolating – their father has a dexterity with Slavic grammar that is unhindered by canon, and together they have filled in any gaps with etymological leaps and creativity; on the other hand, they are not easily understood by Russian speakers, and there has been no functional distinction between Bengali and Russian words since they are all plugged into the same almost-Russian grammar. This poem reflects that linguistic landscape, as well as the encroaching position of English as we continue to settle in so-called Australia.

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