No, neither under an alien sky norUnder the protection of alien wings—I remained with my own people then,Where my people, in their misfortune, were.
Instead of a Preface
During the terrifying years of the Yezhov repressions, I spent seventeen months in Leningrad prison lines. One time, someone thought they recognized me. Then a woman standing behind me, who of course had never heard my name, stirred from her own, though common to all of us, stupor and asked in my ear (there, all spoke in a whisper):
—Could you describe this?
And I said:
Then, something akin to a smile slipped across what once had been her face.
April 1, 1957, Leningrad
Before such trials all mountains crumble,A mighty river ceases to flow to the sea,Yet a dungeon’s barred gates remain rigid,Beyond which gape the prisoners’ cellsAnd the deathly isolation of loneliness. [End Page 339] For one living, a brisk wind freshly fans,For someone else, a sunset’s sweet caress—We know none of these, the same everywhere:We only hear the stilled screech of the keysAnd the thundering pacing of the guards.Arising as though for an early MassWe tramped the capital, reverting to wild,To meet up, with the breathlessness of the dead,The sun risen lower, the Neva more fogged-in,With hope’s sirens singing, invisibly distant.Sentence passed … The floodgates flung open;She is now already cut off from all the rest,As though with pain, life’s excised from the heart,As though rudely knocked over on her back,She walks on … Staggering … Entirely alone. …Where are they now, my unwilling girlfriendsOf these past two gone-to-the-devil years?What hallucination in the Siberian blizzard,What apparition haunts their lunar disk?To them I send regards, this last farewell.
This occurred when only a dead manWould smile, taking pleasure in rest.And like a useless appendage LeningradSwayed in the vicinity of its prisons.When, bereft of mind from torture,Marched divisions already condemned,The short and sweet song of partingAnd the trains’ railing whistles,The stars of death hanging over us,Writhing in pain, innocent RussiaUnder the bloody soles of the boots,Under the tires of the Black Marias. [End Page 340]
They led you away before sunrise.After you, as at a bearing out, I trudged,In the dim chamber children whimpered,And Mary’s candle was snuffed out.Upon your lips was an icon’s iciness,And death’s sweat was on your brow.Don’t forget! I will, like the mutineers’Wives under Kremlin’s crenels, weep.
[November] 1935, Moscow
The quiet Don is flowing quietlyAnd the yellow moon enters my house.
He enters wearing his hat askew andMeets a shadow, the yellow moon.
This woman is not well,This woman is all alone.
Husband in the grave, son jailed,Please offer a prayer for me.
This isn’t me, someone else suffers.I couldn’t survive that. And what happened,May it be covered in coarse black cloth,Let them carry away the streetlights … Night.
1939 [End Page 341]
Shall I show you then, my dearest mockerAnd the dear beloved of all of your friends,You, Tsarskoe Selo’s carefree sinner,What will soon become of your life—Three hundredth in line, care package in hand,Under The Crosses prison wall you’ll standAnd with the heated waters of your tearsDissolve the surface of Christmas-time ice.How the prison poplar sways side to sideWithout a sound—how many innocent livesThis very moment come there to an end. …
For seventeen months straight I scream,Calling for you to come home, please,Throwing myself at the executioner’s feet;You are my son and also my nightmare.Now, everything is confused for the ages.Now I will never manage to untangleWho is an animal and who a human being,Nor how long I’ll wait till the...