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from the February 2021 issue

Destined from Birth

Translator’s note: As the Russian-Ukrainian war was launched in 2014, Xenia Emelyanova posted this recording of herself reciting this poem to the Facebook page of an antiwar activist. It was an act of great personal bravery.

Destined from birth.
What’s destined from birth?
That when they took you from your mother mucus-covered, dove-colored,
somewhere up there, in the heavenly spheres, it’s already known
where you’ll lay your head forever.
And while the blood still pulses in your soft fontanele,
you’ve already become that person
destined from birth.
What the hell’s destined?
What does birth mean?
It’s your ancestors, all their sins, their genes, their souls,
blood and sweat,
it’s your people.
It’s our faces in the church crowd, Lord,
not-so-distant relations.
It’s us, Your flesh and blood, from a single root,
in a single language praying to You: woe,
woe so terrible there’s nothing worse,
even we can’t bear it, submissive though we are.
Evil, black-hearted, blind,
death’s begun to whistle again.
Our own “Hailstorms” and “Hurricanes” fired on our people,
hair standing on end from the news.
How many children, Lord, have we buried this winter,
how many will we bury still?
Help us find our strength, lift up our heads,
throw off the devil’s yoke.
Enough of their butchery, enough baring our backs for their brand!
Give us the will to act, we’re up to our knees,
up to the seventh generation in blood—we’ve already redeemed our guilt.
It’s time to shake off death and impotence,
stop the slaughter, stop the war.

© Xenia Emelyanova. By arrangement with the author. Translation © 2021 by Katherine E. Young. All rights reserved.

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