Calm Me, Moon Calm me, moon. Calm me, moon, I need your light. Let me drink as much as you want, But just let me drink. I'm trampled by talk In the house of strange loves. I lost the link To a world that never was. In the north there's rain, In the south white on white. Below me, no days— Above, Lucite. I tread ice on the final river, Both sides are just as far. How to sing I don't remember, I've no words left. Moon, I know you. I know your berth. With you it's easy, No need to roam the earth. All I wanted, all that I knew A crumpled cocoon When out the moth flew. Those who knew what I was, They're forever alone. Calm me, moon. Calm me, moon, I need your light. Let me drink as much as you want, But just let me drink. I'm trampled by talk In the house of strange loves. I lost the link To a world that never was.Edit
Translation Notes, or Solace in Simferopol
We sat in Crimea's main airport, a set of glass and concrete boxes plunked on a stretch of treeless gray hills. By mistake, we'd gone to the older terminal first, where I'd paid 50 kopeks to visit the bathroom, an endless, yellow-lit cave with stalactites and stalagmites of horrid smells. The white terminal was also freezing cold and passenger-free, and the kiosk girl advised us to flee to “international”—where everyone else, like us, was travelling only as far as Kiev.
We settled down before a sign that said BOADING. I needed the Song.
This translation emerges from the strange, sustaining role this song, Ëóíà óñïîêîé ìåíÿ took on in my two months of traveling Ukraine as a journalist. I know the words Grebenshikov wrote and the things I saw have nothing to do with one another in real life, but in my mind they have muddled and merged, and all I have to do is hear this song and I am there: with a dozen leather-jacketed Armenians smoking in line as they wait to weigh their dogs in cages, and the dogs straining to sniff and bark at the stray that snuck into the terminal.
Ëóíà óñïîêîé ìåíÿ is the second song on Akvarium's 1999 green vortex of an album, Ψ. It's a prayer for a guide and comforter, although the moon may seem like cold comfort indeed. Still, this song is downright cheerful compared with the one that precedes it, in which Boris, to the accompaniment of a watery heartbeat, begs God to teach him the Name of his Despair. Èìÿ ìîåé òîñêà didn't make it onto the compact collection of Akvarium I brought on this trip—even I have some limits.
But Ëóíà óñïîêîé ìåíÿ was having a soothing effect on this American even before she found herself in numerous situations where the song came in handy, like on stifling trains with only salty mineral water to drink. A month before I was to leave for Ukraine, an opposition journalist I'd wanted to interview disappeared, and I'd been hearing muffled hints of hysteria that his death had been ordered from on high. I was flying into a dictatorship, people told me, a post-Soviet-stagnation nightmare. I didn't quite believe them then, and I don't now, but this dark and windswept song became a place where I could absorb the blows of ominous weirdness the country did provide.
Ëóíà óñïîêîé ìåíÿ is part grief for cast-aside selves, part longing for absolute emptiness. Nothing is worse, Boris seems to be saying, than a halfway state, stuck on the ice between what was and what will be. He's forgotten how to sing and is left without words (though the existence of this song would seem to belie that). The narrator is trapped in some lonely, groundless place, with only one way out: the light of the moon.
I have no idea what the moon actually meant to Boris when he wrote this song, but its chief consolation seems to be its indifferent generosity. Our narrator is mourning a “world which is not” that's nonetheless gone; it is the cocoon left behind when the moth flies away. But the moon cares nothing for what was or will be, whether it's rock-and-roll stardom, the tenets of Marxism/Leninism, or some personal illusion BG may have lost. Our favorite planetary satellite bathes everything in the same cold light.
Oddly, I don't recall seeing the moon while I was in Ukraine. I saw fishermen on the thin ice of the Dniepr, defying the river to sweep them away like their comrades. I saw the usual fixtures of poverty: grandmothers begging for change, and underpasses packed with people trained but unable to do something better with their lives than sell cigarettes, soap, and cell phone cards. I saw the gray and sleepless faces of opposition journalists a few days after they'd identified the body of their colleague, headless and decomposed, in a rural morgue.
After doing the grim work of journalism, my reporter friend Sasha and I took off to Crimea, needing to escape the misery of politics in Kiev. In Yalta, it poured down rain on the workers' sanitoria and palatial dachas. Lenin had flowers beneath him in Alupka, and in Simferopol, a Crimean Tatar told us of the hard times he'd had at the hands of Russians, only to conclude by asking me if black people were really dangerous to live with in America
But there is a point at which surrealism is no longer amusing or even interesting—it's just painful, and I'd reached that point by the airport in Simferopol.
I pulled out the mini-disk and played my favorite song, airlifted right away by those dark, elegiac strings. But then I passed the song on to Sasha, who actually has to live in Ukraine.
“Well,” he said after listening to a few chords, “You are really getting in the mood.” And he handed the earphones back.