We can neither expiate nor rectify
the mistakes and misery of that April.
The bowed shoulders of a conscience awakened
must bear the burden of torment for life.
It’s impossible, believe me,
to overpower
or overhaul
our pain for the lost home.
Pain will endure in the beating hearts
stamped by the memory of fear.
surrounded by prickly bitterness,
our puzzled town asks:
since it loves us
and forgives everything,
why was it abandoned forever?

At night, of course, our town
though emptied forever, comes to life.
There, our dreams wander like clouds,
illuminate windows with moonlight.

There trees live by unwavering memories,
remember the touch of hands.
How bitter for them to know
there will be no one for their shade
to protect from the scorching heat!
At night their branches quietly rock
our inflamed dreams.
Stars thrust down
onto the pavement,
to stand guard until morning . . .
But the hour will pass . . .
Abandoned by dreams,
the orphaned houses
whose windows
have gone insane
will freeze and bid us farewell! . . .

We’ve stood over our ashes;
now what do we take on our long journey?
The secret fear that wherever we go
we are superfluous?
The sense of loss
that revealed the essence
of a strange and sudden kinlessness,
showed that our calamity is not
shared by those who might, one day,
themselves face annihilation?
. . . We are doomed to be left behind by the flock
in the harshest of winters . . .
You, fly away!
But when you fly off
don’t forget us, grounded in the field!
And no matter to what joyful faraway lands
your happy wings bear you,
may our charred wings
protect you from carelessness.

Translated from the Russian by Leonid Levin and Elisavietta Ritchie

Russian original of this poem.

To Vasily Deomidovich Dubodel, who passed away in August 1988, and to all past and future victims of Chernobyl.

They did not register us
and our deaths
were not linked to the accident.
No processions laid wreaths,
no brass bands melted with grief.
They wrote us off as
lingering stress,
cunning genetic disorders . . .
But we–we are the payment for rapid progress,
mere victim (of someone else’s sated afternoons.
It wouldn’t have been so annoying for us to die
had we known
our death would help
to avoid more “fatal mistakes”
and halt replication of “reckless deeds”!
But thousands of “competent” functionaries
count our “souls” in percentages,
their own honesty, souls, long gone–
so we suffocate with despair.
They wrote us off.
They keep trying to write off
our ailing truths
with their sanctimonious lies.
But nothing will silence us!
Even after death,
from our graves
we will appeal to your Conscience
not to transform the Earth
into a sarcophagus!

* * *
Peace unto your remains,
unknown fellow-villager!
We’ll all end up there sooner or later.
Like everyone, you wanted to live.
As it turned out,
you could not survive . . .

Your torment is done.
Our turn will come:
prepare us a roomier place over there.
Oh, if only our “mass departure”
could be a burning lump of truth
in duplicity’s throat! . . .

May God not let anyone else
know our anguish!
May we be extinction’s limit.
For this, you died.
Peace unto your remains,
my fellow-villager
from abandoned hamlets.

Translated from the Russian by Leonid Levin and Elisavietta Ritchie

Russian original of this poem.



How amazing
in my thirtieth year
not to live
but instead
stumble along–
all bygone years
both happy and deadly,
heavy, wet, like logs,
crowd in the soul
as if in a tomb!

The soul does not sing
but rather becomes mute;
rather than aches . . .
So it is harder to breathe.

I am not to fly!
Though the shallow edge
of heaven is over my porch.
Already the roads have tired me,
hobbled me so–
I can no longer soar!

Faces reflect in the heavens.
faces of those
to whom I have said farewell.
Not one can be forgotten!
No oblivion!

The soul, it seems–
is a difficult memory.
Nothing can be erased,
nothing subtracted,
nothing canceled,
nothing corrected! . . .

. . . Even so,–the burden is sacred,
the heavier
the dearer!

Translated from the Russian by Leonid Levin and Elisavietta Ritchie
Revised by Lyubov Sirota

Russian original of this poem.


Is this only–a fear of radiation?
Perhaps rather–a fear of wars?
Perhaps–the dread of betrayal,
cowardice, stupidity, lawlessness?
The time has come to sort out
what is–radiophobia.
It is–
when those who’ve gone through the Chernobyl drama
refuse to submit
to the truth meted out by government ministers
(“Here, you swallow exactly this much today!”)
We will not be resigned
to falsified ciphers,
base thoughts,
however you brand us!
We don’t wish–and don’t you suggest it!–
to view the world through bureaucratic glasses!
We’re too suspicious!
And, understand, we remember
each victim just like a brother! . . .
Now we look out at a fragile Earth
through the panes of abandoned buildings.
These glasses no longer deceive us!–
These glasses show us more clearly–
believe me–
the shrinking rivers,
poisoned forests,
children born not to survive . . .
Mighty uncles, what have you dished out
beyond bravado on television?
How marvelously the children have absorbed
radiation, once believed so hazardous! . . .
(It’s adults who suffer radiophobia–
for kids is it still adaptation?)
What has become of the world
if the most humane of professions
has also turned bureaucratic?
may you be omnipresent!
Not waiting until additional jolts,
new tragedies,
have transformed more thousands
who survived the inferno
into seers–
Radiophobia might cure
the world
of carelessness, satiety, greed,
bureaucratism and lack of spirituality,
so that we don’t, through someone’s good will
mutate into non-humankind.

Translated from the Russian by Leonid Levin and Elisavietta Ritchie

Russian original of this poem.



A century of universal decay.
In cyclotrons nuclei are split;
souls are split,
sounds are split

While behind a quiet fence
on a bench in someone’s garden
Doom weighs
a century of separation
on the scales.

And her eyes are ancient,
and her palms are taut with nerves,
and her words clutch
in her throat . . .

Nearby and cynical, death
brandishes a hasty spade.
Here, whispers are worse than curses,
offer no consolation.

Yet out on the festive streets
the mixed chorus
of pedestrians and cars
never stops.

The stoplight
winks with greed,
gobbles the fates of those it meets
in the underground passageways
of eternity.

How long
the bureaucrats
babbled on
like crows
about universal good . . .
Yet somehow
that universal good
seeps away.
Have we slipped up?

In the suburbs, choke-cherries
came out with white flowers
like gamma fluorescence.
What is this–a plot by mysterious powers?
Are these intrigues?
We have slipped up!

Choke-cherries are minor.
They are not vegetables . . .
Here, tomatoes ripened too early:
someone just ate one–the ambulance
had to be called in a rush.
We have slipped up.

We came to the sea–
the eternal source of healing . . .
And–we were stunned.
The sea is an enormous waste dump.
What happened?
Have we slipped up?

How masterfully
the blind promoters
of gigantic plans
manipulated us so far!
Now the bitter payment
for what we so easily
overlooked yesterday..

Has day died?
Or is this the end of the world?
Morbid dew on pallid leaves.
By now it’s unimportant
whose the fault,
what the reason,
the sky is boiling only with crows . . .
And now–no sounds, no smells.
And no more peace in this world.
Here, we loved . . .
Now, eternal separation
reigns on the burnt out Earth . . .

These dreams are dreamed
ever more often.
Ever more often I am sad for no reason,
when flocks of crows
circle over the city
in skies, smoky, alarmed . . .

Translated from the Russian
by Leonid Levin and Elisavietta Ritchie

Original Russian version of this poem.


I am working–
as if with my final strength,
as if from my final days
I look at eternity.
The moment of farewell
has made my head spin . . .
I adore you–
random passersby!
To me–you are no one,
but you give me the plot,
the smile,
the glance laced with bitterness . . .
Your astonished looks follow me, surprised
I-love you for no reason.
Yet maybe
I can see more clearly
from the silence,
bareness of abandoned hamlets–
nothing more absurd than feuds,
nothing more splendid than confession,
how petty are success and luck,
how lowly the yearning for riches.
Like last year’s snow, you can’t buy
at any price the sense
of brotherhood.
What happiness–
to come home,
to repay debts to friends and kin,
without thinking
your last duty is
to bow over your smoldering home!

I accept
this world!
I embrace
this air!
I am happy
it is not simple
for me
to become
your happiness . . .

I am working–
as if with my final strength,
as if from my final days
I look at eternity.
But only with you
is the hour of daybreak kind.
And only with you
is every evening splendid.
Indeed can it be
I have only a handful of days
left to live–
to be burnt up in one short month?
when I can love so much,
when my world is so majestic and bright!
Life went up in smoke from somebody’s campfire
(this world has inquisitors to spare!).
Everything burned,
burned up.
Even the ashes
were not always left behind . . .
But the stubborn soul still lives
yet again resurrected from ashes!
I live with abandon!
I live, breathing you!
And for you, I am ready to go
into the inferno again!
But with merciful hands you extinguish
the fatal fire under me.
My beloved,
may God protect you!
May the flame of the redeemed soul shield you!

Translated from the Russian by Leonid Levin and Elisavietta Ritchie

Russian original of this poem.

Your glance will trip on my shadow
and the shadow
will thrust itself
into the leafy shade.
The pale sun will shine over us,
a lantern
scorched by the burning question . . .
Caught by the gravity of the light,
breathing is choked, lips are pressed,
and there is no answer,
no answer
to this light in the violent night.
But freed from gravity our shadows
shook the jasmine bush,
they will drift apart,
breathe night haze at our backs.
And the yellow leaf will fall exhausted,
it will take unbearably long to inhale.
As if the wisdom of autumn
were to catch us by surprise . . .

Translated from the Russian by Leonid Levin and Elisavietta Ritchie

Russian original of this poem.

Back to introduction


Sirota’s agent in North America: Paul Brians, Department of English, Washington State University, Pullman 99164-5020.

First published June 19, 1995.

Revised November 11, 2003

Paul Brians’ Home Page