I canít recall my hour conception,
Guess my memory just isnít good,
In vice and at night they conceived me
I came into the world much too soon.
Not in tortures nor spite was I born in
Nine months isnít nine years after all
My first sentence I spent in the belly
There ainít nothing thatís good in those walls.
My thanks to you, dear cherubim
That you had done your easy work
And then my parents had conceived
And brought me forth into the world.
It happened in those ancient times
Now something out of fairy tales
When lengthy prison sentences
Trudged after people into jails.
Some taken on conception night
And others-way before that time
But all my friends are doing well,
Theyíre getting by and doing fine.
Go on thoughts, and keep rushing to me
Come, you, words - fill all my dear lines
For the first time they gave me my freedom
í38 had decreed it was time.
Had I known who had kept me all cooped up
I would show up the bastard real well
I came into the world, lived, and made it
On Meschanskaya street - at the end.
And right behind a common wall
Where plywood sheets divided homes
Two women neighbors had some fifths
Boy, they were drinking up a storm.
All lived as equals, modestly
A hallway stretched with many doors
For forty families there was
One single toilet per floor.
Teeth wouldnít chatter from the frost
Nor would your jacket keep you warm
And here, I finally found out
How much a kopekís really worth.
...Sirens ceased to bother our neighbor
And soon Mother paid no heed as well
As for me, a strong three year old boy
I ignored them without a damn care.
Not all thatís from the sky is God-given
People put out the bombs snipers flung
My small share and my aid to the front
Was my sandbox and my riddled jug.
And sifting through the holes in roofs
The sun beat down with its three rays
On Evdokim - a peasant man
And Gisya - an old Jewish maid.
She says to him, "What of your sons?"
"They vanished, got no news at all!
Hey, Gisya, weíre one family
Youíve also suffered in the war.
You also suffered in the war
Made Russian much against your will
Yours-innocent, but in the camps
Mine-vanished somewhere in the fields."
...I left all my diapers behind
People minded me, I got along fine
Kids teased me - called me "premature"
Though I came from the womb right on time.
I tried ripping my camouflage off
We have won, still we quake from fearís hold
Meanwhile, fathers and brothers returned
Some-back home, some-to strangerís abodes.
Aunt Zina has a black silk blouse
With flowing dragon-snakes galore
And Vovchik Popovís dad came back
With hordes of trophies from the war.
Japan reduced to spoils of war
And Germany - a spoil of war
The Land of Lemony comes forth
Spoils overflowing by the score.
At the station I took from my dad
His stripes, as though toys for a game
Meanwhile, back from evacuation
People flocked to the cities again.
They came back and got acclimated
They got drunk, then they sobered again
Those whose kin went unscathed, cried their hearts out
Those who lost kin, greived their fill for them.
Vit'kaís pop started digging a subway
We asked him, "What for?" and he said,
"Hallways always end up in a dark wall,
Tunnels lead into daylight instead."
Both Vit'ka and his good olí pal
Did not heed Vit'kaís popís advice
And from our hallway they wound up
In prison cells and paid their price.
But Vit'ka always got in fights
Not once would he admit heíd erred
From hallways right to firing squads
Where he was put against the wall.
The Fathers had their views on life
As for us kids, we had our plans
And we began to look at life
Like independent adult men.
All us kids, even one year old infants,
Fought each other and bloodied ourselves
Yet in dark, gloomy basements kids wanted
To relinquish their life under tanks.
Not one bullet had even grazed by them
They plied their trades, and grieved for their lives
They wonít dare, they wonít risk, still they risked it
And they grinded their files into knives.
Up to the hilt the knives will plunge
Till only handles will be seen
And they will puncture human lungs
Stained charcoal-grey from nicotine.
Young punks fresh out of prison camps
Were making deals to get ahead
While German POWSí
Exchanged their knives for loafs of bread.
They made their dough through playing cards
And petty theft became their game
The young romantics turned to thieves
And went away from their house gates.
...Aunt Maria had owned such a racket
So successful, she need not fear God
By the end of her life, Aunt Maria
Marketeered for herself quite a wad.
In the other rooms, people were starving
Meanwhile, she drank her fill on the sly
And one day she just dropped near the door
What an ugly and cruel way to die.
But making dough was like a drug
She needed more to get her fill
Maria kept on taking hits
Till finally it did her in.
But life went on its daily path
And fortune seekersí hopes were dashed
The subway builder was enraged
Because he couldnít find the cash.
He wrecked the house and said to us
"You little kids, you still wear bibs,"
He swore and cursed, "I fought at war
While you were drooling in your cribs."
There were times, and then there were cellars
It was deemed right, and prices all fell
The canals flowed where they were supposed to
And they emptied where needed as well.
Children of former sergeants and majors
Had made their way to glacier-like heights
It seemed to them that from those hallways
Going down was a much easier flight.