In the Prison-Camp Barracks

I can’t sleep, and the blizzards are howling
In a time that has left no trace,
And Tamerlane’s gaudy pavilions
Strew the steppes . . . Bonfires blaze, bonfires blaze.

Let me go, like a Mongol tsaritsa,
To the depths of the years that have fled;
I’d lash to the tail of my steppe mare
My enemies, lovers, and friends.

And you, the world that I’d conquered
My savage revenge would lay waste;
While in my pavilion the fallen
Ate the barbarous meats of my feast.

And then, at one of the battles —
Unimaginable orgy of blood —
At defeat’s ineluctable moment
I’d throw myself on my own sword.

So I am a woman, a poet:
Now, tell me: what purpose has that?
Angry and sad as a she-wolf
I gaze at the years that are past.

And burn with a strange savage hunger,
And burn with a strange savage rage.
I am far from Tamerlane’s bonfires,
His tents are far away, far away.

— Anna Barkova
Karaganda Gulag Camp, 1935
(Trans. by Catriona Kelly)

In December 1934, Anna Alexandrovna Barkova was arrested and sentenced to five years in prison for criticizing the Soviet state. After her release in 1939, she was sent into internal exile. In 1947, she was re-arrested and sentenced to 10 years in a hard labor camp. She was released in 1956, but arrested again the next year, accused of slandering the Soviet press. She was given another 10-year sentence. Most of her poetry has been lost.

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