The Cashier

We present this work in honor of the poet’s 90th birthday.

Andrei Voznesensky
1933 – 2010


The dumb herd scowled:
“You’ve short-changed us,” they howled.
Pennies like medals stuck in the crust
Of sawdust.

The cashier flew into a rage—
“Nonsense! Be off with you! Go!”—
And rose like dough
From her glass cage.

Over counters where they sell
Cheese cakes and melons was blown
A sudden smell
Of tears and ozone.

Loud was the smell of tears
Among that lowing crowd:
The hands of one dumb pair
Howled in the air.

Clutching bacon, somebody swore,
Or so I imagined: at least, he
Gave a Beethovenish roar,
Earthy and shaggy.

Drumming of knuckle and palm
On the glass plate;
So bellowed the psalm
Of my dumb fate.

With a knowing leer
The cashier
Peered at a bill she held up to the light
To see if Lenin’s profile looked all right.

But Lenin wasn’t there any more:
The bill was counterfeit.
It was a grocery store
Where people and farces meet.

Translation by W.H. Auden

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