Voronezh

(Nadezhda)

Original Text: 

Surviving the Censor: The Unspoken Words of Osip Mandelstam, ed. Allan Briesmaster (Hamilton, Ontario: Seraphim Editions, 2006): 38-39.

2feel the weight of each breath. Here even the wind
3is helpless as it breaks its back on our windows
4and moans outside our door. I have ransomed my
5memories from Moscow and soon I will be free
6but the war goes on and they continue the assault
7on the weakened walls, the burned-out interior, the
8holy of holies where our thoughts are stored and
9once again I am defenseless.
10Listen: the footsteps, the voices, the ones that
11speak for darkness and the ones that speak from
12death, repeating their words, their warnings. There
13is nowhere to retreat, the country is on fire and
14people swim through the flames with fluorescent
15arms,
16                      Oh Voronezh!
17dark and damp you entered the south side of my
18bones, creaking, opening the hinges that shivered
19in my blood you sank your sonorous songs into my
20soul. Your bleak sky is a fortune I have already
21foretold, and I know this winter will never
22surrender the earth, no it will hold on, cradling the
23snow in frozen fists until its lips are blue and
24motionless.
25Voronezh you are buried under glass, in a facade
26of work and your habitual practice that leaves
27boulders in the way of the blind. Here everything
28has turned into a mystery, the old man playing the
29balalaika without strings, the seasons marooned on
30a calendar, and always the axe of the executioner
31above our heads. Voronezh is this life or death?
32And now I want to clear my throat and speak but
33soon my mouth will be full of sand so I leave this
34to the archaeologists who will dig up the facts one
35bone at a time.
36Voronezh I am calling to you across the years of
37exile over ramshackle houses and a railway line
38that leads back to civilization and through the
39winters that never forget how cold life can be, and
40somewhere out there on one of your hills the sun
41was pinned at the point of the interrogator’s
42question, then the light sank into the snow and
43that is all, that is all.

Notes

1] Joseph Stalin's government arrested Osip Emilyevich Mandelstam (1891-1938), a Russian poet, during the 1930s and exiled him and his wife Nadezhda to Cherdyn in the Northern Ural, in effect for daring to write a poem critical of Stalin. After being allowed to move to Voronezh, a city in southwestern Russia, he was re-arrested in 1938 and sentenced to the Vtoraya Rechka (Second River) transit camp near Vladivostok, where he died.
Nadezhda: Nadezhda Khazina, Osip's wife (1922-), who later published two books of memoirs. Back to Line
RPO poem Editors: 
Ian Lancashire
RPO Edition: 
2012
Form: 
Special Copyright: 

Copyright © Rafi Aaron 2006. Published by permission of the poet and Seraphim Editions.