Dedicated to my grandfather Zinovii Balitskii, a talented railway engineer
who was shot without trial in 1937.
Life on earth is terrifying, gents,
in the land of ignorance, of violence and sloth
where, like a muddy river, life
washes away our forebears’ ashes
who, with true longing in their souls,
strove after light and freedom, joy and life,
whose names the muse of history inscribed
into her martyrology. Their burial
inspired no remembrance speeches,
they lie in mass graves. That’s Russia’s foul weather…
Others crowned their rabid henchmen
real fighters for people’s happiness.
That’s how we live in this country –
yesterday’s murderer’s a hero today.
Mouths are twisted with grief even now
but next door they worship and bow
to the monsters’ heirs at work in our time
in faithful-servants-of-the people’s guise.
That’s how we live. Foul weather’s near.
A gale in the making. And thunderstorms.
12 July 2016
Mark Vayner was born on Feb 21. 1937. Four months after his birth, his grandfather, Zinovy Ilyich Balitsky, a specialist in railway signaling, was arrested and accused of “treason and counter-revolutionary activity”, as were millions of innocent people in those years. Quoting Mark: “The trial was as simple as Lenin’s truth: the ‘judges’, smoking and talking about their private lives, signed the list [that, among many other names, had his name. That was all. On the same day, my grandfather was shot. The official verdict was “10 years without the right to correspond.” After the execution of his grandfather, his wife, Mark’s grandmother, was exiled. Mark’s two uncles (brothers of Mark’s father) were shot in the same year. In 1959 Mark graduated from the Russian State University of Oil and Gas. He published one paper book and four electronic-books.
Josephine von Zitzewitz is a scholar of Russian literature and translator specializing in Russian poetry. After working at the Universities of Oxford, Bristol, and Cambridge (UK) she is presently Marie Skłodowska Curie Fellow at UIT The Arctic University of Norway.
These English poems by Gari have the same energy and elegance as his Russian poems, and they are enriched by his multilayered, polyphonic use of the English language to express thoughts and feelings with sophistication and humor.
This new edition by Shearsman Press (UK) contains translations of Marina Tsvetaeva’s narrative poems (поэмы). They can be seen as markers of various stages in her poetic development, ranging from the early, folk-accented On a Red Steed to the lyrical-confessional Poem of the Mountain and Poem of the End to the more metaphysical later poems, An Attempt at a Room, Poem of the Mountain, a beautiful requiem for Rainer Maria Rilke, New Year’s Greetings, and Poem of the Air, a stirring celebration of Lindbergh’s transatlantic flight and the quest for the soul’s freedom. These translations were first published by Ardis in 1998 and reprinted by Overlook in 2004 and 2009. The current edtion was published by Shearsman Press (UK) in 2021.