“You cannot leave your mother an orphan.” Joyce
Not some other country’s sky,
Not some other’s housing wings –
I was there, with them, my them,
my own misfortunates.
An Other Introduction
In the ghastly years of the Yezhov Terror, I passed seventeen months standing, waiting in line outside a Leningrad prison. One day, somehow, someone “identified” me. And a woman behind me, her mouth blue with cold, who, of course, had never heard of me, started out of her numb and shared distraction, and said to me, quite close (we all whispered, there) :
Ah, can you write this ?
And I said, Yes.
And something nearly a smile slipped across her face, and made it one again.
Mountains drop for this pain,
Great rivers slow,
but prison doors stay shut,
bolting up their convict holes
in all the rack of death.
The wind is sweet for someone,
the sun falls warm on some,
but not for us, not us. We hear
the skin-scrape of bitter keys,
the stamp of soldiers’ boots.
Day-new, as if for Morning Mass,
we hurried down the jungled city,
and met, in soulless blanks,
in sinking suns and fog and fading Nevas,
to wait, upon the distant song of hope.
Condemned. And now the tears,
the cruel abandon, and the more alone,
as if her heart were emptied, taken,
she battered to the ground alone,
and yet she lags along, and drags away.
Where are they now, my passing-friends
held in two years of the Devil ?
Do they stand still in their Siberian roar,
like glittered rings of frozen moon ?
To them this writing welcome, and goodbye.
Then, when just the dead still smiled,
all gladly laid aside,
when Leningrad hung grey and flagged
upon its own piled prisons.
When the sentenced legions passed,
excruciated in their hell,
beyond the short songs of goodbye,
upon the sudden hoots of trains,
the shining stars of death above.
And blameless Russia galled beneath
blooded boots, beneath the tyres
of Black Marias.
They took you while the sun came up.
I came behind, my funeral-boy ;
children cried in the darkling house.
And the icon lamp withdrew its light
where you had kissed it cold,
and cold beads on your face.
I will wait with the Streltsy wives,
ghosted under the Kremlin walls.
Hush, the Don runs on ;
a yellow moon comes home,
forth with a tipped hat,
to look for a shadow :
it is a woman sick,
it is a woman alone ;
the man is dead, the prisoned child,
Pray for her, for she is me.
No no, not me : it must be someone else.
For I could never suffer such a stretch.
Clothe it in a darksome cloth,
and take the lamps to black.
John Gallas, New Zealand poet, published by Carcanet (10 books, including The Song Atlas, Fresh Air & The Story of Molecule and 52 Euros), Cold Hub Press (NZ) (“Pacifications” slated for July 2014) and Agraphia (2 ballad books with Clifford Harper). Visit www.carcanet.co.uk, www.johngallaspoetry.com, www.carcanetblog.blogspot.com. Recently awarded Fellowship of the English Association. Presently working on Bodwin & the Beasts and A Year of Dreams.