By Nasta Kudasava
Translation: Hanna Komar, John Farndon
Everyone’s so scared to admit here they’ve lost one of their own,
that it is no longer possible to tread the earth without fear:
pine cones crackle underfoot like the cracking of bones
under combat boots; the grass is blackened by fag-end smear.
And in the sky – heavenly hundreds, heavenly processions…
From the sky, the pilot Akrestin peers through tears,
hugging the heavenly helm, maddened by despair:
*Barys Akrestsin was a Soviet military pilot, a hero of the Soviet Union, who died in 1944 in a battle near Minsk, guiding his shot-up plane into a pile of the enemy’s equipment. There is a lane in Minsk named in honour of Akrestsin on which there is a large detention centre where thousands of innocent people were subjected to violence and torture in 2020.
We loved to lock ourselves in at home so
we could not hear the howls from Kurapaty*.
we did not believe in ‘37’s crimes, no
then knocking on our door came ‘20.
Like sacks in autumn crammed with leaves
Our bodies are stuffed full of dread.
I would like to wake up, to go out, please
to swim out, and fly far away ahead…
we did not believe in ‘37’s crimes, no,
nor look in the face of Kurapaty,
we slept quiet at home, lying low –
then knocking on our door came ’20.
*Kurapaty is the name of a place in the outskirts of Minsk (capital of Belarus) where between 1937 and 1941, NKVD officers killed 30,000 Belarusian and other civilians. The burials were discovered in 1988 and made public
autumn’s russet leaves rustle out a sermon,
autumn raps out its truth in the persistent pecking of a tit…
yet we cannot hear it:
we’ve been stunned by names!
we’re scanning the lists of people –
we read them and we weep
over those we find and those we don’t,
those serving the year of the rat in the dungeons of horrors…
in Baranavichy, Mahiliou, Slutsk, Akrestsina, Zhodzina –
the haematomas on the body of my unconscious motherland.
but one day this will end, and this madness will burst
to stop the pain of this August where we have been stuck forever.
god will open up his own list and no one will be lost:
every traitor, executioner, and every bastard will be there.
they say that letters written to prison are never really lost,
they each grow wings and gather together in flocks,
and fly off through the sky
to build their freedom nests…
and the tattooed letters never heal on their white backs.
And the prisoners reach out like bare branches between the bars,
looking for their leaves, sending each other calls,
and heaven delivers them mature
and baby leaves from afar
and in a light soft cloud the pain melts away for all.
TO THE ETERNAL KASTSIUSHKA
Ex pluribus unum
Though the sun’s golden bowl lures
you stay loyal
to the earth and all
here for our freedom and for yours
We – the devoted –
There are many truths and creeds by name
but this thing is always sure:
there’s never someone else’s pain,
nor someone else’s war.
Can you hear, in the soil of Kurapaty,
pigs are nestling their snouts,
bullet-riddled, call for you harshly –
and their blood screams out!
Abel, this is your brothers’ blood, your own –
innocent and starting to roar!
And do you hear it, stone by stone,
The will is calling to burst wide the soul,
another Rome is withering
do you hear that,
for independence’s goal,
new warriors are fighting…
So never be scared of death or jail
don’t hang back,
be always sure:
there’s never someone else’s pain
nor someone else’s war.
THE MOTHER’S VOICE
Translated by Hanna Komar, John Farndon and Valzhyna Mort
in memory of Raman Bandarenka
There is a sea of people out there, but I will not believe.
I cannot let that huge word ‘dead’ stay upon my lips.
I’ll draw the curtains, cook, and then get ready to eat –
I have meat with thyme and potatoes and a little wine to sip.
At the squares, the human ocean is whipped into a storm.
They’ve written on their flags the leaden word ‘hero’.
Why do they use this word? My boy is coming home,
We’ll both sit at the table and we’ll eat together, I know.
If he fails to come, I’ll rise – and to God I’ll go.
“You who lit our hearts,” I will tell him plainly,
“Give me now my son again. I do not need a hero!
My ordinary son, alive again. Bring him back to me!”