When I did the Echoes from Eternity edition of Irina Ratushinskaya poems, I mentioned that I would post the texts of some of them.

So, voilà.

All are taken from the 1988 Bloodaxe Books anthology Pencil Letter.


We are branded with Russia
By a white-hot blizzard,
By the mad labyrinth of dark craters.
Cavities under the snow:
Go away, eyeless woman, go away!
Only how are we to leave each other.
In our infinite whirling,
In our kinship and conflict with her?

And when at last you break loose
From the oppressive tenderness
Of her despotic embraces.
In which to fall asleep is to do so forever:
Your head swims
As from the first childish drag at a cigarette.
And your lungs are torn to shreds
Like a cheap envelope.

And then, as you wait for everything that
Has emerged alive from her unpeopled cold
To recover from the narcosis –
To know that the angels of Russia
Freeze to death towards morning
Like sparrows in the frost
Falling from their wires into the snow.

PKT. 4 August 1984


It’s those rooks that troubled my soul –
Black-winged like a coquettish fan.
It’s they with their snowstorms’ chaos
Who put me under a spell:
Pain shuddered alive –
That common one that I lullaby at night
That everyday one that does not demand an executioner,
Beaten up
By the wing into pitch black,
Not of yesterday,
But a hundred times over – pain.
I was never tempted by any other road,
I mustered strength for all farewells:
To withstand not to falter at the last stroke.
But for these I did not have the strength.
Even your prayers did not protect me:
Across all turbulent shores –
Consumed in the fire
Of delusion, of wind from afar,
Anguish gushes from the veins.
Fly away, I cannot bear to say farewell.
Yours is another sky, with other laws.
Russia will not bury you in snow
And you will not have to freeze your black steel wings here.
Your road is in the clouds –
Lighter than light,
A fine migratory
Good morning!
Fly away – get out of my sight!
How many more times will 1see you off?

Potmin Transit Prison 30 October 1984

Some of the sheets used to smuggle her poems out of the Gulag

And if sleep doesn’t come

And if sleep doesn’t come, count up to a hundred.
And chase away these thoughts.
I know, you can’t reach me any longer.
And nothing can help any more.
So when at night you’re burning don’t rend
The white bandage of your last sleep!
Perhaps I shall come again soon, and then
Surely you’ll recognise me.
And I shall be like a child, like a bush – With the tenderest touch of all
And you, predict something longer for
A tale with a happy end.
And I shall be like grass, or like sand –
So I’m warmer to embrace.
But if I’m like a starving hound —
Feed me without delay.
Like a gipsy, I shall snatch at your sleeve.
Hurl myself, like a bird, at your pane,
Don’t chase me away, when you know who I am.
All 1want to do is look in.
And one of these days, in foreign parts,
In the snow, or maybe the rain,
Upon a frozen kitten you’ll chance.
And it will be me again,
And whomever you please, whatever his plight.
You’ll be able to save, come what may.
And I at that time will be everywhere.
Everywhere on your way.

PKT. October 198

Somewhere a pendulum moves

Somewhere a pendulum moves, and softly a cuckoo is weeping,
Why should she count the hours, and not the long years for us.
And in the abandoned house, the old woman opens the shutters,
At the appropriate time, and with the same care as before.

Somewhere in the gloom a lamp is burning, the knitting continues.
And the rare letters are kept, and news is awaited.
And she, as is her custom, grieves only with her eyes.
And needlessly straightens the portraits of the children who have grown.

And what is all this for, And who before her is not sinful?
And over whom, departing, did she not make the sign of the cross?
But the one that she loves, may be comforted, saved.
And the one whom she awaits, may he find her on his return.

PKT. September 1985

So tomorrow, our little ship, Small Zone

So tomorrow, our little ship Small Zone,
What will come true for us?
According to what law –
Like an eggshell over dead waves?
Covered in patches and scars.
On the word – the honest word – alone –
By whose hand is our ship preserved,
Our little home?
Those of us who sail to the end, row, live to the end
Let them tell for the others:
We knew
The touch of this hand.

Small Zone, 18 September 1983


Above my half of the world
The comets spread their tails.
In my half of the century
Half the world looks me in the eye.
In my hemisphere the wind’s blowing,
There are feasts of plague without end.
But a searchlight shines in our faces.
And effaces the touch of death.
And our madness retreats from us,
And our sadness passes through us,
And we stand in the midst of our fates,
Setting our shoulders against the plague.
We shall hold it back with our selves.
We shall stride through the nightmare.
It will not get further than us -don’t be afraid
On the other side of the globe!

Small Zone, 26 February 1984

I will live and survive

I will live and survive and be asked:
How they slammed my head against a trestle.
How I had to freeze at nights.
How my hair started to turn grey…
But I’ll smile. And will crack some joke
And brush away the encroaching shadow.
And I will render homage to the dry September
That became my second birth.
And I’ll be asked: ‘Doesn’t it hurt you to remember?’
Not being deceived by my outward flippancy.
But the former names will detonate my memory –
Magnificent as old cannon.
And I will tell of the best people in all the earth,
The most tender, but also the most invincible,
How they said farewell, how they went to be tortured.
How they waited for letters from their loved ones.
And I’ll be asked: what helped us to live
When there were neither letters nor any news – only walls,
And the cold of the cell and the blather of official lies,
And the sickening promises made in exchange for betrayal
And I will tell of the first beauty
I saw in captivity.

A frost-covered window! No spyholes, nor walls.
Nor cell-bars, nor the long-endured pain –
Only a blue radiance on a tiny pane of glass,
A cast pattern -none more beautiful could be dreamt!
The more clearly you looked, the more powerfully blossomed
Those brigand forests, campfires and birds!
And how many times there was bitter cold weather
And how many windows sparkled after that one –
But never was it repeated,
That upheaval of rainbow ice!
And anyway, what good would it be to me now,
And what would be the pretext for that festival?
Such a gift can only be received once.
And perhaps is only needed once.

Labour camp hospital, 30 November 1983

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