Over the long-distance course the four front-runners Race. Each is persuaded hes the most fleet-footed, Each thinks hell be the last to falter, Each wants to mount the lofty podium. This one is less, that one is more hot-blooded, But after hearing the final pep-talk speeches, Each ate about the same amount of spinach, With no judge needed for a photo finish. Twill be a battle for the entire length All being of roughly equal strengtn. "Say, tell us how theyre doing, For Petes sake?" "The TV crews are there, The radio teams as well. Nothing special to report, All seems to be swell. But the crowds hotting up Into quite a frenzy." Number Ones scorching his sneakers, as a hero must, Seems to coast downhill, intends with pride, Crowned like a winner in a blaze of ardour, To approach the gloaming cup with hardy stride. What was it that deprived him of deep, high-minded thoughts? Because when young he ate too little kasha. As a kid he felt hunger, not ambition. Time enough to change - and off to the gymnasium. Like it or not, thats the way it is, The first to get there get the choicest bits. As for the loser, whats to say? He lost his wager. Out of kindness Ill give him Bones and liver. Number Twos far removed from these carnal concerns. Hes one of the plump, well stuffed and sated, He dreams of glory, ne dreams of success, He lifts his knees high, more so than the rest. He leans into the turn, almost touching the ramp, A sight for glad eyes, hes clearly a champ. Hes a master of tactics, in a word a real pro, With will-power, strength, and sheer guts to show. Precise, concentrated, tense, Hes not one to kick against the fence. Well see this chap again At Thessalonika, Well see him on the tele Teaching little kids. Hell compete with Pele In muscle-toughening. Hes the very model of All-round wilfulness. Number Three, by now wise and through the mill - Hes always second - can surely be relied on. Someone first-seeded probably fell ill; His trainer may have felt a gram of pity. In his ears resounds the old, insidious refrain: "Listen, this is your last chance, old fellow!" Like a kid hes all worked up, merely needs a fillip. Give him a good prod - or else the jig is up. Suddenly he falls back Into the rear-guard echelon, Among the one-time stars, And the cardiac cases, Where low-priced are all places And all pre-booked. And the Fourth, way out there on the outer lane, He just runs, not for anything nor anyone. At times he closes in: Watch it, Im on your heels! At times falls back, which is how I want it.         The second wont receive the laurel wreath, The first wont taste the juicy morsel. The third one, like a snail, Will crawl along the supply trail... How many systems are there To modern racing? Suddenly hes slackened pace Before the final sprint. Hes torn off his T-shirt In unseemly haste. This runners behaviour Shows deplorable taste. Over the long distance, the four are still in front, Nasty and kind-hearted, disinterested and grasping. To what fancy gods are each of them not praying? With shoulder blades protruding from their backs, The front-line foursome whirl along the stretch, With no judge needed for a photo check.
de Cate + Navrozov. Translation, 1995