A Bitch in Outer Space

(03 11 1957)

 

Engendered by the revolution and

sacrificed for its anniversary—

the date had to be marked magnificently.

A cosmic broadcast of the International

did not seem sufficient.

We’ll send a dog into the heavens!

We’ll combine man’s and earth’s satellites 

into a cosmic union,

Sputnik’s radio signal replaced 

by the beating of a heart.

Heard the first time by the whole world,

the second—by Soviet equipment.

 

The common mutt had to be white—

to be better visible in the cosmic darkness.

Curly was renamed Barker.

But Laika’s cosmic wail wasn’t heard for long.

She overheated and died within a few hours,

baked by the engines and the radiation.

For seven days TASS reported good health, then:

“Oxygen ran out.”

A space coffin 

circling Earth 2570 times.

Death as an imperial satellite’s technical glitch.

 

For some reason they call Laika a hero.

Every bitch is a big man! 

One of about a dozen, she beat Mooch

(legs too short) and Albina,

who was supposed to fly, but Laika

looked better in photos and on TV.

Only bitches were in the running—

being less encumbered, 

they could just squat 

(try explaining that to guys in trolleybuses).

The chosen one was prepped for travel by Dr. Ada Kotovskaya—

a secret feline revenge?

The road to the cosmos is paved by bitches’ bones.

 

The Americans chose their animals 

based on similarities; for the Russians

the dog had to have heart:

they accustomed her to the red light,

then hurled her, drooling, up to the heavens.

It was not Bulgakov's but Pavlov’s dog that set the stage

for Laika’s flight.

 

The four-legged cosmonaut—

a pioneer of human progress, 

an unburied victim of science, 

Laika the stray was turned  

into postage stamps, souvenirs,

and even cigarettes.

 

Every citizen could smoke

the loneliest dog in the world

each time anew

in the name

of the revolution. 

 

Translation by Karla Gruodis

Poem
2019
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