Quietly my friend is growing old,
and like an ancient itinerant
nun, has a faint gleam about her: an
unnatural light, thrown back as if from a mirror.
As she sits her needle stabs at her sewing.
Her apartment is nearby the station, yet
from somewhere else much more remote
comes the far-away hoot of another railway.
Her most ordinary things seem sad. A picture
of The Unknown Woman hangs over the bed;
across the tapestry of a German gobelin
a herd of sleek deer are grazing.
It’s well-heated in here, I say to her,
and she nods in reply: it is warm, yes.
What is it we have drowned in this room,
that I can feel trickling through our fingers?
Can these little muslin curtains here that
fool us with their starched whiteness be
the only banks, the only rivers
ever to flow for us with milk and honey?
Beggars we are, working infertile ground.
Like green arrows from a bow, perhaps
both of us have overestimated
the strength that belongs to young girls.
And yet maybe it is no sin, maybe
it is even part of knowing yourself human
to want to have some material thing that
can somehow last, and be eternal.
I am afraid of muddling everything with
words, on the wrong track again: is
it possible these nineteen years we’ve
shared will disappear without a trace of us?
They sank into us like burdens once,
and lay like routes ahead we had to take.
Comes to, wake up now, my dear friend.
Prick your finger with your needle!
Along the shipping routes, you also may
bear your lights out into the
open sea, as in other times,
pedlars carried their wares over old Russia.
by Римма Фёдоровна Казакова (Rimma Fyodorovna Kazakova)
translated by Elaine Feinstein
Additional information: Rimma Fyodorovna Kazakova (Римма Фёдоровна Казакова) was born in Sevastopol. 27 January 1932 in Sevastopol, Soviet Union – 19 May 2008 in Perkhushkovo, Odintsovo District of Moscow Oblast, Russia) was a Soviet/Russian poet. She was known as an author of many popular songs of the Soviet era. She studied history and worked in Khabarovsk as a lecturer. She has also worked as an editor in a newsreel studio.
Though a very conservative writer, Kazakova is nevertheless unusual in the Soviet context for her occasional frank treatment of such themes as pregnancy. Her poetry, like Berggolts’, is quite often sombre, showing insight into such problems as loneliness or ageing, particularly as it affects women. She identifies with the hard life of hunters, builders, fishermen etc., and much of her poetry springs from her observations of the working life of such people.
Her first rhymes were reminiscent of Yevtushenko, Okudzhava, Voznesensky and Rozhdestvensky and were first published in 1955. Her first poetry collection, Let’s Meet in the East («Встретимся на Востоке»), was published in 1958.
From 1959 until her death, she was a member of the USSR Union of Writers. She also held the position of First Secretary of the Moscow Union of Writers. In October 1993, she signed the Letter of Forty-Two. She died suddenly at age 76 at a medical sanatorium near Perkhushkovo on 19 May 2008 at 1pm. She was buried on 22 May 2008 at Vagankovo Cemetery in Moscow.
There doesn’t seem to be much available information about Kazakova in English. In fact this is the only translated poem of hers I’m aware of so if anyone is able to contribute something further then please leave a comment. Especially if you know where to source the original, Cyrillic, version as I couldn’t find any evidence of it after looking at a number of Russian language poetry websites.