* * *
Not my mother, but a Tula peasant,
Elena Kuzina, fed me her breast.
She warmed my swaddling-clothes above the stove,
and with her cross at night my dreams were blessed.
She knew no fairy tales and never sang:
but always kept as treats for me instead
inside her treasured white enamel tin
a peppermint horse or fruity gingerbread.
She never taught me how to say my prayers,
but gave up everything she had for me:
even her own bitter motherhood,
all that was dear to her, unconditionally.
Only the time I tumbled from the window, but
stood up alive (that day for ever mine!),
with half a kopek for the miracle
her candle graced Iberian Mary's shrine.
And you, Russia, "great resounding power":
taking her nipples for my lips to pull,
I suckled the excruciating right
to love you, and to curse at you as well.
My honest, joyful task of making psalms,
in which I serve each moment all day long,
your wonder-making genius teaches me,
and my profession is your magic tongue.
And I may stand before your feeble sons
priding myself at times that I can guard
this language, handed down from age to age,
with a more jealous love for every word…
The years fly by. The future has no use,
the past has burnt itself into my soul.
And yet the secret joy is still alive,
for me there is one refuge from it all:
where with the still imperishable love
even a maggot-eaten heart can keep,
beside the trampled coronation crowd
my nurse, Elena Kuzina, asleep.