Onto my barely living chest,
The stone of the verdict fell.
But I was ready for this test,
Somehow, I’ll bear this hell.
So much that I must do alone:
I’ll start by erasing the past,
I’ll turn my living soul to stone,
And learn to live, at last.
Or else… The summer, on display,
Still gleams for some occasion.
I have foreseen this sunny day,
The vacant house, desolation.
Weeks fly by to no avail,
I can’t comprehend this mess.
My dear son, with such distress,
White nights gazed into your jail,
It’s as if they’ve never left,
Eyes of hawks, with eager gloss,
They discuss your heavy cross
And again, they talk of death.
For seventeen months, I plead
For you to come home again,
On my knees, at the hangman’s feet, -
You’re my son and my dread.
I’m afraid that I can’t comprehend,
All tangled, in utter confusion,
Who’s an animal, who’s a man,
And the date of your execution.
There’s only flowers in a veil
Of dust, the censer, and a trail
Of footprints leading far.
And staring straight into my eyes,
With threats of imminent demise,
There is a giant star.
If only you, the fool from long ago,
The favorite of every single friend,
The carefree sinner of the Tsarskoe Selo,
Could see your future to its full extent.
Waiting three-hundredth, in an endless line,
Beneath The Crosses, carrying supplies,
You’d notice how the blazing drops of brine
Burn to the ground through the new year’s ice.
The prison poplars sway with such allure,
And not a sound follows. Can you fathom,
How many lives must end there premature…
No, it’s not I, someone else is suffering.
I wouldn’t bear it, take all that has happened,
Cover it up with a thick black cloth,
And take the lanterns away.
The Don runs softly in the night,
The yellow crescent walks inside.
It enters, with its hat askance –
And sees a shadow in a trance.
It’s a woman, who needs help,
It’s a woman, by herself,
Her spouse - dead, her son – in jail.
I am she. Please, say a prayer.
They took you at dawn, I remember,
As though to the wake, I trailed,
Children wept in a darkened chamber,
By the icon, the candle grew frail.
Your lips kept the icon’s chill.
The deathly sweat – I remember it all!
Like the wives of the Streltsy, I will
Moan for you by the Kremlin wall.
Only the dead smiled, back in those days,
Being at peace and safe from abuse,
Leningrad hung by the prison gates, dazed,
As an appendage without any use.
The convicts passed by in endless platoons,
Maddened by torment, disheartened,
The train whistles bellowed a saddening tune,
The song of definitive parting.
Stars of death cast their gazes between us,
Guiltless Russia ached to her roots,
Beneath the tires of black marias,
And the weight of blood-splattered boots.
Faced with this grief, the mountains bend,
The mighty river stops its flow,
But iron bolts won’t even dent,
Behind them - “the convicts’ den”
And somber deathly woe.
Some people feel the soothing breeze,
For some the sun shines red –
For us, these wonders long have ceased,
We only hear the grinding keys
And soldiers’ heavy tread.
We rose, as though to early mass,
And crossed the capital in throngs,
More breathless than the ones who’ve passed,
In haze, the Neva’s overcast,
But hope continues with its song.
There’s the verdict… Tears burst loud,
She’s singled out, on her own,
As if her life has been ripped out,
As if she’s thrown onto the ground…
She’s staggers… stumbling… alone…
Where are the friends with whom I’ve shared
Two years of living in that hell?
What blizzards do they have to bear?
What visions in the lunar glare?
To them I’m sending this farewell.
In the dreadful years of the Yezhov terror, I spent seventeen months standing in line in front of prisons of Leningrad. One day someone “recognized” me. Then, a woman standing behind me with blue lips, who, surely, has never heard my name in her life, came out of the trance that was common to all of us and whispered in my ear (everyone there spoke only in whispers):
- Can you depict this?
And I said:
- I can.
At that moment, something akin to a smile flashed by across what was once her face.