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Poetry

They went on and on, singing “In Memory Forever,”
Though it seemed, rather, that what there was to remember
Was only things falling apart, ice under the eaves,
And the singing itself.

On and on they went as they counted, recalling
How many of them earth’s ice-mold had covered,
While here and there hysterical women let go
Their cuckoo-like echoes.

They counted the beats; they sobbed; they drowned out the singers;
Some counted the steps, stumbled, mixed up the number;
They counted the days before passing away, and secretly prayed,
Their lips unmoved;

On they went, their hair tucked into their kerchiefs,
Leaving uncounted things still to take care of:
Great branches of fir, small feathery boughs,
Fences, benches, gates,

While the deceased floated on to a frozen berth,
And not one tired woman stopped to rest on the earth;
On they went, cursing the cold under their breath
And the ice on the road.

A baby whimpered; an older child
Hoped to give comfort but couldn’t for all that he tried,
And the stupid, unspeaking local madwoman
Grinned like a kid

Who lives by a different truth, one
In which there’s no love, only swearing and prodding behind;
As they said, they had all of the time that was left,
But wasn’t a lot still their due?

The men carrying the coffin on cloths, the choir singing,
The road’s twisting shoulders with birds by the fencing,
The cold of the unthawed tombs—
In memory forever.

Translated from the Russian by F.D. Reeve


The Image archive is supported in part by an award from the National Endowment for the Arts.

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