its birds were old familiar birds.
They still spoke Russian. Misery
spoke the familiar Russian words.
BY WAY OF INTRODUCTION
In the terrible years of the “Ejevtshina,” I spent seventeen months in the prison lines at Leningrad. Once, someone somehow recognized me. Then a woman standing behind me, her lips blue with cold, who had of course never heard of me, woke up from the stupor that enveloped us, and asked me, whispering in my ear (for we only spoke in whispers):
“Could you describe this?”
I said, “I can.”
Then something like a smile glided over what was once her face.
April 1, 1957 Leningrad
soon the abiding hills are dust,
and yet the prison locks stand fast,
the convict, kicking in his lair,
breathes the consuming air.
for someone the low sun is a live coal,
but we know nothing. Blurred and small,
we hear keys scrape the swollen wards,
the sleepwalk of the guards.
when we prowled through wild Leningrad,
we were more breathless than the dead,
and lower than the sun. Low fog,
soon leveled out to fog,
each one cut off from everyone,
rudely cut off, tripped up, thrown down,
blood siphoned from the heart. Dead stone,
she walks still, sways . . . alone.
cry, cry, for your imprisoned friend,
clothe him from the Siberian wind,
shine in the haloed moon’s snow eye . . .
I say good-bye, good-bye.
dared to draw breath and sing:
by blocks and prisons, Leningrad
throbbed like a useless wing.
and mad with suffering,
heard engines hiss their marching song,
the cattle cars’ wheel-ring.
Russia convulsed, as ominous
removal trucks and black
police boots broke her back.
as if I walked behind your bier.
In the dark rooms, the children bellowed,
wax melted in the icon’s glare.
cold the lined forehead’s greenish sweat —
like the wives of the Strelnikis,
I’ll howl beneath the Kremlin’s gate.
the orange moon climbs through a window.
the yellow moon has met a shadow.
no one will give the dog a bone.
I couldn’t take it. Light
no lanterns in these death-cells —
black cloths for windows . . . night!
outgrown, soon dated, show-off Child —
the tree house built to catch the moon . . .
Oh what has happened to that child?
of women lugging food and news
for felons. . . . Will your scalding tear
burn an ice hole in the new year?
over the deadly closeness, waves
of dead leaves whiten in the wind
what innocent lives have reached the end!
I called you back. I screamed
at the foot of the executioner:
“You are my son, my fear.”
I can’t distinguish white from red,
who is a man, and who a beast,
or when your firing squad will rest.
old clock hands tramping out the hours,
old incense drifting from a censer,
and somewhere, boot steps leading nowhere.
now looking straight into my eye,
“Move quickly, be prepared to die.”
says the huge star.
of foot, they skin the oblivious snow.
Son, tell me how the white-capped night
looks through your prison window.
or clouds the air with its white breath.
It speaks of my high Calvary,
it speaks of death.
and struck us with his stony word —
but never mind, I will make out,
I was prepared.
stops the split mind from looking back.
I can forget you now and then,
turn stone, and learn to live again —
or else? The woods’ hot rustle, boughs
bursting, a window flying open . . .
I had long had a premonition
of this clear day and empty house.
I wait for you. Now truly miserable,
I’ve turned my lights off and unlocked the door.
You are so simple and so wonderful.
a poison-bomb shell, or the typhus mist —
housebreaker, coming from behind to kill,
lifting a clubbed revolver in your fist.
familiar to the point of nausea here —
I want to see the top of the blue hat,
the cringing stupor of the janitor.
rivers are ice, the pole star shines from far,
and the blue rays of my beloved’s eye
screen out the daily torture. Let me die.
August 19, 1939 at the Fountain House
are three black moles. I see a fox:
two ears, black muzzle. Let me rest,
this bed I lie on is my box.
Careful to catch each syllable
my allegoric voices hiss,
I lie decoding images.
Now sickness gathers up its gains,
and kicks me as I kneel in prayer,
and nothing of my own remains —
that turned the bars to lines of shadow,
the woods’ hot rustle, summer thunder,
our whispers at the prison window —
our birch boughs filled with the new birds,
light noises changing to a voice,
the ache of the last words.
May 4, 1939 at the Fountain House
(Quoted in old church Russian)
and fire destroyed the April skv,
Christ murmured, “Why have you forsaken me?”
and told his Mother not to cry.
the loved disciple turned to stone
all this, God, but your Mother stood alone;
none dared or cared to look at her.
and skewered flanks, Oh lioness —
I’ve seen their faces die like grass,
the lowered eyelid’s tick of fear.
snow rot the brown, smiles disappear
from soft, obedient mouths, as fear
suppressed its dry, embarrassed cough.
who stood in lines with heavy feet,
come winter’s cold or summer heat,
under the red and blinding wall.
I see you. hear you, feel you. Some
marched to their deaths in cheering ranks,
others have faded into blanks.
“Why worry, this is home at last.”
Some lived. I’d write their names in red
forever, but the list is lost.
drawn from the scattered words they spoke.
Braced for the terror’s second stroke,
now and always, I hear their cry.
a hundred million people pray
through my tired mouth and lethargy:
“Remember me, remember me.”
gravestone or cross to stand for me,
you have my blessing and consent,
but do not place it by the sea.
the polar Baltic’s grinding dark;
that tie is gone. I will not lie,
a Tsar’s child in the Tsarist park.
Far from your ocean, Leningrad,
I leave my body where I stood
three hundred hours in lines with those
who watched unlifted prison windows.
Safe in death’s arms, I lie awake,
and hear the mother’s animal roar,
the black truck slamming on its brake,
the senseless slamming of the door.
and melts, a prison pigeon coos,
the ice goes out, the Neva goes
with its slow barges to the sea.