I Will Live and Survive

I will live and survive and be asked:
How they slammed my head against a trestle,
How I had to freeze at nights,
How my hair started to turn grey …
But I’ll smile. And will crack some joke
And brush away the encroaching shadow.
And I will render homage to the dry September
That became my second birth.
And I’ll be asked: “Doesn’t it hurt you to remember?”
Not being deceived by my outward flippancy.
But the former names will detonate my memory —
Magnificent as old cannon.
And I will tell of the best people in all the earth,
The most tender, but also the most invincible,
How they said farewell, how they went to be tortured,
How they waited for letters from their loved ones.
And I’ll be asked: what helped us to live
When there were neither letters nor any news – only walls,
And the cold of the cell, and the blather of official lies,
And the sickening promises made in exchange for betrayal.
And I will tell of the first beauty
I saw in captivity.
A frost-covered window! No spy-holes, nor walls,
Nor cell-bars, nor the long endured pain —
Only a blue radiance on a tiny pane of glass,
A cast pattern- none more beautiful could be dreamt!
The more clearly you looked the more powerfully blossomed
Those brigand forests, campfires and birds!
And how many times there was bitter cold weather
And how many windows sparkled after that one —
But never was it repeated,
That upheaval of rainbow ice!
And anyway, what good would it be to me now,
And what would be the pretext for the festival?
Such a gift can only be received once,
And perhaps is only needed once.

— Irina Ratushinskaya

Irina Ratushinskaya was sentenced to seven years in a Soviet labor camp and 5 years of internal exile for “agitation carried on for the purpose of subverting or weakening the Soviet regime.”

[Research note: Irina Ratushinskaya arrives in the U.S. New York Times (March 24, 1987); Interview with Irinia Ratushinskaya Christian Science Monitor (March 27, 1987); Irina Ratushinskaya’s return to Russia Independent (June 5, 1999)]