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] DEDICATION Mountains fall before this grief, A mighty river stops its flow, But prison doors stay firmly bolted Shutting off the convict burrows And an anguish close to death. Fresh winds softly blow for someone, Gentle sunsets warm them through; we don't know this, 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, gone to seed, We'd meet - the dead, lifeless; the sun, Lower every day; the Neva, mistier: 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, Thumped, she lies there brutally laid out, But she still manages to walk, hesitantly, alone. Where are you, my unwilling 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. [March 1940] INTRODUCTION [PRELUDE] 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 farewell 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. I 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 (1) Inconsolably, beneath the Kremlin towers. [1935. Autumn. Moscow] II Silent flows the river Don A yellow moon looks quietly on Swanking about, with cap askew It sees through the window a shadow of you Gravely ill, all alone The moon sees a woman lying at home Her son is in jail, her husband is dead Say a prayer for her instead. III It isn't me, someone else is suffering. I couldn't. Not like this. Everything that has happened, Cover it with a black cloth, Then let the torches be removed. . . Night. IV Giggling, poking fun, everyone's darling, The carefree sinner of Tsarskoye Selo (2) If only you could have foreseen What life would do with you - That you would stand, parcel in hand, Beneath the Crosses (3), 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. . .  V 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.  VI Weeks fly lightly by. Even so, I cannot understand what has arisen, How, my son, into your prison White nights stare so brilliantly. Now once more they burn, Eyes that focus like a hawk, And, upon your cross, the talk Is again of death. [1939. Spring] VII THE VERDICT 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)] VIII TO DEATH You will come anyway - so why not now? I wait for you; things have become too hard. I have turned out the lights and opened the door For you, so simple and so wonderful. Assume whatever shape you wish. Burst in Like a shell of noxious gas. Creep up on me Like a practised bandit with a heavy weapon. 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. The river Yenisey Swirls on. The Pole star blazes. The blue sparks of those much-loved eyes Close over and cover the final horror. [19 August 1939. Fontannyi Dom] IX Madness with its wings Has covered half my soul It feeds me fiery wine And lures me into the abyss. That's when I understood While listening to my alien delirium That I must hand the victory To it. However much I nag However much I beg It will not let me take One single thing away: Not 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 anxious shade of lime trees Nor the light distant sound Of final comforting words. [14 May 1940. Fontannyi Dom] X CRUCIFIXION Weep not for me, mother. I am alive in my grave. 1. A choir of angels glorified the greatest hour, The heavens melted into flames. To his father he said, 'Why hast thou forsaken me!' But to his mother, 'Weep not for me. . .' [1940. Fontannyi Dom] 2. Magdalena smote herself and wept, The favourite disciple turned to stone, But there, where the mother stood silent, Not one person dared to look. [1943. Tashkent] EPILOGUE 1. I have learned how faces fall, How terror can escape from lowered eyes, How suffering can etch cruel pages Of cuneiform-like marks upon the cheeks. I know how dark or ash-blond strands of hair Can suddenly turn white. I've learned to recognise The fading smiles upon submissive lips, The trembling fear inside a hollow laugh. That's why I pray not for myself But all of you who stood there with me Through fiercest cold and scorching July heat Under a towering, completely blind red wall. 2. 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 who, with a sudden flick of her head, replied, 'I arrive here as if I've come home!' I'd like to name you all by name, but the list Has been removed and there is nowhere else to look. 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 hallowed stump Where an inconsolable shadow looks for me; Build it here where I stood for three hundred hours And no-one slid open the bolt. Listen, even in blissful death I fear That I will forget the 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] FOOTNOTES 1 An elite guard which rose up in rebellion against Peter the Great in 1698. Most were either executed or exiled. 2 The imperial summer residence outside St Petersburg where Ahmatova spent her early years. 3 A prison complex in central Leningrad near the Finland Station, called The Crosses because of the shape of two of the buildings. 4 The Leningrad house in which Ahmatova lived. First published Sasha Soldatow Mayakovsky in Bondi BlackWattle Press 1993 Sydney. Translated by Sasha Soldatow
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