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Poetry

Destined from Birth

By Xenia Emelyanova
Translated from Russian by Katherine E. Young

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 fontanel,
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.

English Russian

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 fontanel,
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.

на роду написано

на роду написано
что на роду написано?
это когда тебя от матери приняли, в слизи, сизого
а где-то там, в высших сферах уже ведомо
где ты голову сложишь навек
и пока еще кровь пульсирует в мягком темени
ты тот самый уже человек
на роду написано
на каком на роду написано
что еще за род
это предки твои, все грехи их, гены их, души их, кровь и пот
это твой народ
это лица наши в толпе церковной похожие, Господи
не кисель так седьмая вода
это мы, кровь и плоть Твоя, от единого корня
на одном языке молим Тебя: беда
беда такая, что дальше некуда,
даже нам ее, безропотным, не стерпеть
лихая, слепая, бесправая,
опять засвистала смерть
наши «грады» и «ураганы» по нашим людям, волосы дыбом от новостей
сколько детей отпели мы этой зимой, Господи, сколько еще отпоем детей
помоги нам найти в себе силы поднять головы
скинуть дьяволово ярмо
сколько можно им резать нас, сколько можно нам подставляться под их клеймо
дай нам волю действовать, мы по колено
по седьмое колено в крови – и уже искупили вину
нам пора стряхнуть с себя смерть и бессилие,
прекратить избиение, остановить войну

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