My conception - I don’t remember. My dear memory serving me wrong. And that night was so sinful and tender, And my birth I awaited so long. Mother’s labor was not tortured hell. Nine months are not years, I bet. Her dear womb was my first prison cell. Nothing better to do than forget. Thank you, saints, for spells and for courage That my parents’ first sin you encouraged In those years - so dark and forlorn, When the verdicts were cruel and long. Arrested at conception, some earlier than that, But they survived destruction and life is coming back. Mind racing. I’m cracking the whip. Words are spilling onTO the white page. To release me and sign my slip, They decreed in the year "thirty eight" Who delayed my release? Will you tell me, please? Rage is filling me up to the neck! No, wait! I forgive and forgive me, please! Those years were dark as if painted black. Beyond the thin walls of the flat for the communal living The neighbor couple drank all night, old memories reliving. We were not better than the rest; the lot was shared by all. For thirty eight rooms of the flat - one bathroom in the hall. The wimpy stove did not warm the coats on our backs. And money’s value I learned on my thin scrawny back. Air raid sirens were not so alarming And my mother got used to them, too. At the old age of three - I was charming. With the bombers - I played peek-a-boo. Not all which from heaven is manna - All of Moscow extinguished the flames. I assisted the front in my manner With a pitcher of sand to my name. The holy sunlight beamed so bright onto the people of the flat. Two folks on that sunny day came to the yard to chat. She asks him, "Are your sons alive?" He answers, "M.I.A. We’re all survivors of this war. There’s nothing you can say. The worries turning hair white like cherry blossom flowers. Mine - prisoners in German camps, yours - prisoners in ours." Outgrowing the crib and the rattles I lived well, never wanting for love. Teased a "preemie" in street urchin battles, Though I did all nine months out of love. Camouflage I tried ripping from roofs. Germans beaten back! There they are! I see fathers’ and brothers’ dear boots - All returning from fronts - near and far. The neighbor lady got a blouse will dragons, silky scarves. Because her husband has returned from countries very far. War-booty coming from Japan and Germany disgraced. And the whole country looking like an old beat-up suitcase. My father’s medals were like toys, I took’em at the station. Civilians - haggard and displaced - returned from ’vacuation. They looked around, some elated Drank to the victory and life. Cried happy tears for those awaited And wailed deep for ones who died. Some of them went to build the subway. The nosy children asked them, "Why?" They said, "Walls often end a hallway, But tunnels all end with a light." Such prophecies were left unheeded by Vitya and a friend. From our block to the cell-block they both smoothly went. He was a dense, pig-headed one, all arguments were his. After the hallway at the wall he gave his life for this. All fathers know how to live and we do just as well. For us the future seemed so bright and clear as a bell. All of us, even babies in diapers Fought until we saw stains of blood Born too late - we had missed all the fighting. On the playground tanks were of mud. No bullets for us, only pebbles. Learning trades and told TO stay alive. Thirsting, craving a chance to be rebels. We had fashioned our rasps into knives. Into black lungs we stuck our knives with pleasure And turned the nifty handles for good measure. Snot-nose gangsters were ruling the streets. Captured Nazis swapped knives for some eats. Cards, dice, boxing and stealing to adventure so similar. The romantics of streets soon became hardened criminals.                                         Times were hard after year forty-five, But the country rose up like a phoenix. Murdered cities returned to give life. People’s faces again started beaming Some of veterans’ children have grown Into criminals of the mean streets. Seems like morals of war overblown, Death and fate they all wanted to cheat.
© Eugene Derbarmdiker. Translation, 2005