A dead man’s cakewalk

While we’re at it, the cakewalk – ragtime’s close relative – makes an appearance in a relatively well-known poem by Nikolai Zabolotsky, The Signs of the Zodiac Are Fading, first published in 1929:

Fat-bottomed mermaids
Are flying away straight into the sky,
Arms sturdy like sticks,
Breasts round like the turnip.
A witch, having mounted a triangle,
Is turning into a whiff of smoke.
A dead man with wood goblinesses
Are smoothly dancing the cakewalk.
In their wake, in a pale choir,
Sorcerers are hunting the Fly.
And over the hillside
The moon’s visage is motionless.

Rendered into Russian, the name of the dance grows an extra vowel and sounds like keck-oo-àwk, an ugly, croaking trisyllable to my ear, a welcome diversion at that carnival of the mind’s monsters.

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