Not under foreign skies
Nor under foreign wings protected -
I shared all this with my own people
There, where misfortune had abandoned us.
INSTEAD OF A PREFACE
During the frightening years of the Yezhov terror, I
spent seventeen months waiting in prison queues in
Leningrad. One day, somehow, someone 'picked me out'.
On that occasion there was a woman standing behind me,
her lips blue with cold, who, of course, had never in
her life heard my name. Jolted out of the torpor
characteristic of all of us, she said into my ear
(everyone whispered there) - 'Could one ever describe
this?' And I answered - 'I can.' It was then that
something like a smile slid across what had previously
been just a face.
[The 1st of April in the year 1957. Leningrad]
Before this grief, bend mountains,
Stops the flow of the great river,
But can’t break strong prison bars
And behind them “prisoners’ burrows”
And deadly anguish.
For whom fresh wind blows
For whom the setting sun consoles; we don't know.
We are everywhere the same, listening
To the scrape and turn of hateful keys
And the heavy tread of marching soldiers.
Waking early, as if for early mass,
Walking through the capital run wild
There we met, lifeless dead;
Sun beneath and Neva foggy,
But hope still sings forever in the distance.
The verdict. Immediately, a flood of tears,
Followed by a total isolation,
As if a beating heart is painfully ripped out, or,
roughly overturned backwards,
But she still manages to walk, unsteady, alone.
Where are you, my nameless friends,
Captives of my two satanic years?
What miracle do you see in a Siberian blizzard?
What shimmering mirage around the circle of the moon?
I send each one of you my salutation, and farewell.
It happened like this when only the dead
Were smiling, glad of their release,
That Leningrad hung around its prisons
Like a worthless emblem, flapping its piece.
Shrill and sharp, the steam-whistles sang
Short songs of separation
To the ranks of convicted, demented by suffering,
As they, in regiments, walked along -
Stars of death stood over us
As innocent Russia squirmed
Under the blood-spattered boots and tyres
Of the black marias.
You were taken away at dawn. I followed you
As one does when a corpse is being removed.
Children were crying in the darkened house.
A candle flared, illuminating the Mother of God. . .
The cold of an icon was on your lips, a death-cold sweat
On your brow - I will never forget this; I will gather
To wail with the wives of the murdered streltsy
Inconsolably, beneath the Kremlin towers.
[1935. Autumn. Moscow]
Quietly flows quiet Don,
Yellow moon enters the house.
Enters with crooked cap
The yellow moon sees a shadow
This woman is sick.
This woman is alone.
Husband in tomb, son in prison
Pray for me.
No, it isn’t me, it’s someone else’s suffering.
I can’t take what happened.
Cover it with a black cloth,
Let the lanterns be removed. . .
Giggling, poking fun,
The love of all friends,
The carefree sinner of Tsarskoye Selo ,
If only you could have foreseen
What life would do with you -
That you would stand, parcel in hand,
Beneath the Crosses, three hundredth in line,
Burning the new year's ice
With your hot tears.
Back and forth the prison poplar sways
With not a sound - how many innocent
Blameless lives are being taken away. . .
For seventeen months I have been screaming,
Calling you home.
I've thrown myself at the feet of butchers
For you, my son and my horror.
Everything has become muddled forever -
I can no longer distinguish
Who is an animal, who a person, and how long
The wait can be for an execution.
There are now only dusty flowers,
The chinking of the thurible,
Tracks from somewhere into nowhere.
And, staring me in the face
And threatening me with swift annihilation,
An enormous star.
Weeks fly lightly by.
What happened, I cannot understand.
How, my son, into your prison
White nights stare so brilliantly.
Now once more they looked like a hawk
Apon your tall cross,
And speak about death.
The word landed with a stony thud
Onto my still-beating breast.
Nevermind, I was prepared,
I will manage with the rest.
I have a lot of work to do today;
I need to slaughter memory,
Turn my living soul to stone
Then teach myself to live again. . .
But how. The hot summer rustles
Like a carnival outside my window;
I have long had this premonition
Of a bright day and a deserted house.
[22 June 1939. Summer. Fontannyi Dom (4)]
You will come anyway - so why not now?
I wait for you—it is too hard.
I have put out the lights and opened the door
For you, so simple and so marvellous.
Assume whatever shape you wish. Burst in like
A poisonous shot. Sneak up
like an experienced bandit with heavy weapons.
Poison me, if you want, with a typhoid exhalation,
Or, with a simple tale prepared by you
(And known by all to the point of nausea), take me
Before the commander of the blue caps and let me glimpse
The house administrator's terrified white face.
I don't care anymore. Yenisey Swirls on.
The Pole star blazes.
The blue sparks of those beloved eyes
Close over and cover the last horror.
[19 August 1939. Fontannyi Dom]
Madness with its wings
Has covered half my soul,
It feeds me fiery wine
And lures me into the black abyss.
That's when I understood
While listening to my alien delirium
That I must hand the victory
However much I nag,
However much I beg,
It will not let me take
One single thing away:
Nor my son's frightening eyes -
A suffering set in stone,
Or prison visiting hours,
Or days that end in storms,
Nor the sweet coolness of a hand,
The agitated shade of lime trees,
Nor the light distant sound
Of final comforting words.
[14 May 1940. Fontannyi Dom]
“Weep not for me, mother.
I am alive in my grave.”
A choir of angels glorified the greatest hour,
And heaven melted into flames.
To Father he said, 'Why hast thou forsaken me!'
And to Mother, 'Weep not for me. . .'
Magdalena smote herself and wept,
Favourite disciple turned to stone,
And there, where silent Mother stood,
Not one person dared to stare .
I have learned how faces fall,
How terror looks like under lowered eyelids,
How suffering can etch cold pages
Of cuneiform-like marks upon the cheeks.
I know how dark or ash-blond strands of hair
Can suddenly turn white,
How smile fades upon submissive lips,
How fears tremble inside a hollow laugh.
And I pray not for myself alone,
But for all of you who stood there with me
Through fiercest cold and scorching July heat
Under a towering, completely blind red wall.
The hour has come to remember the dead.
I see you, I hear you, I feel you:
The one who resisted the long drag to the open window;
The one who could no longer feel the kick of familiar
soil beneath her feet;
The one shaking her beautiful head, replied,
'I arrive here as if I've come home!'
I'd like to call you all by name, but the list
Has been taken away and nowhere to learn.
So,I have woven you this wide shroud
out of the humble words I overheard you use.
Everywhere, forever and always,
I will never forget one single thing,
Even in new grief.
Even if they clamp shut my tormented mouth
Through which one hundred million people scream;
That's how I wish them to remember me when I am dead
On the eve of my remembrance day.
If someone someday in this country
Decides to raise a memorial to me,
I give my consent to this festivity
But only on this condition - do not build it
By the sea where I was born,
I have severed my last ties with the sea;
Nor in the Tsar's Park by the treasured stump
Where an inconsolable shadow searches for me;
Build it here where I stood for three hundred hours
And for me bars weren’t opened.
Listen, even in blissful death I fear
That I will forget the noise of Black Marias,
Forget how hatefully the door slammed and an old woman
Howled like a wounded beast.
Let the thawing ice flow like tears
From my immovable bronze eyelids.
And let the prison dove coo in the distance
While ships sail quietly along the river.
[March 1940. Fontannyi Dom]