Song Under the Bullet
We are so bound up in discord
The centuries cannot disentangle us—
I’m a warlock, you’re a wolf. We’re close
In the continuous dictionary of earth.
Shoulder to shoulder, like the blind,
And led along by destiny,
In the undying dictionary of this country
We’re both condemned to die.
When we sing this Russian song
We trade our kindred blood in drops
And I become your night prey.
This is why we exist, wolf and warlock.
The snow smells sweet as a slaughterhouse
And not a single star shines above the steppe.
Old one, there’s still time to get your face
Broken in two by a lead-tipped whip.
A German machinegunner will shoot me in the road, or
An incendiary bomb will break my legs, or
An SS-kid will give me a bullet in the gut.
In any case, on this front, they’ve got me covered.
Without my name, or glory, or even boots,
With frozen eyes I’ll gaze at the snow, blood-colored.
Arseny Tarkovsky (1907-1989) is one of the great Russian poets of the 20th century. He survived the entire Soviet era—suffering a leg amputation during the Second World War—by his work as a translator of poetry. His renown grew with the publication of his first book in the 1950s and when his son (the filmmaker Andrei Tarkovsky) used readings of his father’s poems in his films The Mirror and Stalker.
Philip Metres is a poet and translator whose chapbook, abu ghraib arias, won the Arab American Book Award for poetry in 2012. See more at www.philipmetres.com and www.behindthelinespoetry.blogspot.com
Dimitri Psurtsev, a Russian poet (www.stihi.ru/avtor/exroma) and translator of British and American authors, teaches at Moscow State Linguistic University. His two books of poetry, Ex Roma Tertia and Tengiz Notepad, were published in 2001.