Babi Yar

By: Yevgeni Yevtushenko (translated into English by Benjamin Okopnik)

No monument stands over Babi Yar.

A steep cliff only, like the rudest headstone.

I am afraid.

Today, I am as old

As the entire Jewish race itself.

I see myself an ancient Israelite.

I wander o’er the roads of ancient Egypt

And here, upon the cross, I perish, tortured

And even now, I bear the marks of nails.

It seems to me that Dreyfus is myself.

The Philistines betrayed me – and now judge.

I’m in a cage. Surrounded and trapped,

I’m persecuted, spat on, slandered, and

The dainty dollies in their Brussels frills

Squeal, as they stab umbrellas at my face.

I see myself a boy in Belostok

Blood spills, and runs upon the floors,

The chiefs of bar and pub rage unimpeded

And reek of vodka and of onion, half and half.

I’m thrown back by a boot, I have no strength left,

In vain I beg the rabble of pogrom,

To jeers of “Kill the Jews, and save our Russia!”

My mother’s being beaten by a clerk.

O, Russia of my heart, I know that you

Are international, by inner nature.

But often those whose hands are steeped in filth

Abused your purest name, in name of hatred.

I know the kindness of my native land.

How vile, that without the slightest quiver

The anti-Semites have proclaimed themselves

The “Union of the Russian People!”

It seems to me that I am Anna Frank,

Transparent, as the thinnest branch in April,

And I’m in love, and have no need of phrases,

But only that we gaze into each other’s eyes.

How little one can see, or even sense!

Leaves are forbidden, so is sky,

But much is still allowed – very gently

In darkened rooms each other to embrace.

“They come!”

“No, fear not – those are sounds

Of spring itself. She’s coming soon.

Quickly, your lips!”

“They break the door!”

“No, river ice is breaking…”

Wild grasses rustle over Babi Yar,

The trees look sternly, as if passing judgement.

Here, silently, all screams, and, hat in hand,

I feel my hair changing shade to gray.

And I myself, like one long soundless scream

Above the thousands interred,

I’m every old man executed here,

As I’m every child murdered here.

No fiber of my body will forget this.

May “Internationale” thunder and ring

When, for all time, is buried and forgotten

The last of anti-Semites on this earth.

There is no Jewish blood that’s blood of mine,

But, hated with a passion that’s corrosive

Am I by anti-Semites like a Jew.

And that is why I call myself a Russian!

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