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.
© Arkady Yanishevsky. Translation, 2008