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Two Poems from Prison by Irinia Ratushinskaya

Well, we’ll live
as the soul directs,
not asking for other bread.
And I will get myself a tame mouse
while having a dog is impossible.
And he and I will go along,
read letters in the corner.
He’ll climb into my bed
without wiping the soot from his paws.
And if letters suddenly stop—
(after all, anything could happen on the way!)—
he, the gray one, then and there,
will angrily wrinkle his nose.
And then bury himself in my palm:
as if to say, remember, we’re in this together!
No need for both to take validol,
better to chew on a crust!
I’ll bring out a crushed heel of bread,
and we’ll regard the world more kindly.
He and I will invent a land
where there are neither cats nor camps.
In two strokes we’ll abolish the coldness,
make bananas grow in the gardens…
Maybe after our term we’ll be sent there,
but more likely to Magadan.
But when I’m taken for transport
and put through the search,
he’ll tag along at my heels,
crawl wherever I go.
I’ll set him in a secret pocket
so he’ll keep warm to the rumble of wheels.
And we’ll fairly go halves on sugar—
ten grams per nose.
And wherever the track is laid—
anywhere suits us now.
For we’re both old zeks—I
and my long-tailed beast.
We’ll make a home behind any bars,
beyond any February—spring…
We’ll raise a dog anyway,
but in better times.
—August 8, 1984

I’ll live through this, survive, and they’ll ask me:
how they beat my head on the prison cot,
how it froze during the nights,
how the first wisps of gray hair broke through.
I’ll smile and say some joke,
wave away the shadow that comes quickly,
and I’ll honor the dry September
that’s become my second birth.
And they’ll ask: doesn’t it hurt to remember?
without being deceived by the lightness around?
But names from the past burst in my memory—
beautiful—like old weapons.
And I’ll tell about the best in all the world,
the most tender, who don’t break,
how they accompanied us, how they went to torture,
awaited letters from those they loved.
And they’ll ask: what helped us live,
without letters or news—just walls
and coldness in the cell, stupidity of official lies,
nauseating promises for betrayal.
And I’ll tell about the first beauty which I saw in this captivity:
window in the frost! No spy holes, nor walls,
nor grating—no long suffering—
only bluish light in the smallest glass.
Whirling pattern—you can’t dream of anything more enchanted!
Look close, you’ll see it begin to blossom even more:
forests of thieves, fires, birds!
and how many times there was coldness
and how many windows glistened from that time on.
But it hasn’t happened again,
such violence, prism ice,
and why should it be mine—now,
and what have I done to deserve this holiday?
Such a gift can happen only once.
Perhaps one needs it only once.

—November 30, 1983

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