To Lena Mikhailik
“…But Leningraders gathered at first light
In countless multitudes on the strand and each
Planted a tree into the desolate mud…”
– Anna Akhmatova, “Maritime Victory Park”
Young Leo looks monstrous,
His swelling roar
Rings out squeaky,
His cradle is again rocked by fate.
Again, he stands over an intertwining of rivers,
Where the Acheron and the Lethe flow into the bay.
She declares: there will be a park here.
A park of what?
A park of nothing and no one in particular.
Maritime Victory Park –
A special kind of creature
To be deployed
Like a destroyed
A park that envelops roughly
A million dead souls
And nameless corpses.
They will stream, elbowing their way, to the stadium
Where a small orchestra much like Celan’s is blaring a flourish,
Where the Minotaur and the Unicorn are to co-participate
In the festive and nonfuneral ritual
Of cenotaph construction.
Old Charon tarried,
Left them unferried.
There are no graves,
Only a seaside park that waves and blooms,
Swayed by the barely buried.
They are hers now and she counts them all
On returning to her hometown from evacuation
In ’44, before the end of the war,
And finding nothing but a talking void everywhere:
In her own unowned home,
On the bridge, in the square…
She has become
Quite a Chichikov at this new mission, passion, obsession,
Though mightier, plumper and more eager.
The big housing management book teems
With ghost apartments
Bought with the gold coins of beet press cakes
The pockets of her deranged Antinous
(So they whisper)
Are lined with cash.
He has now been forever
Dismissed deleted expunged
And let go play,
So off he goes
To make music on Victory Day
In Victory Park
With its rats, rats, rats, rats, rats
And carrion crows.
Translated from the Russian by Philip Nikolayev
Polina Barskova was born in Leningrad in 1976. She published her first book of poetry Christmas in 1991; her tenth book of poetry A Sunny Morning in the Square has recently been published in Saint Petersburg. Three books of Barskova’s poetry have been translated into English: This Lamentable City (Tupelo Press, 2010); The Zoo in Winter: Selected Poems (Melville House, 2011); and Relocations (Zephyr Press) 2015.As a professor of Russian literature at Hampshire College, Barskova began an archival project that resulted in Written in the Dark: Five Poets in the Siege of Leningrad (Ugly Duckling Presse, 2016), an anthology of work written during the siege that remained unknown for decades. In 2015 Barskova received Andrey Bely Prize for her book of prose Living Pictures; her play with the same title is staged in Moscow Theatre of Nations.