But only not to think


. . . But only not to think about the journey
On roads hot, dusty, to be walked all day.
Preserve me, my uncompromising reason,
Don't let the reins go now, only half-way.

A long time yet we must fight off together
The suffocating nights, the prison airs,
The prison dreams–hallucinations, almost,
The senseless gibes of executioners,

The treachery of the wearied, and their kisses'
Poison . . . Die, but afterwards fight on–
Not knowing how long the term, and not possessing
The right yet to declare our strength is done.

Don't let us weaken; punish with refusal
Each childish ‘Can't take any more, I'm through . . .'
Preserve me in this midnight age, my reason.
Keep me from harm–and I'll watch over you.


                     Russian; trans. David McDuff


Irina Ratushinskaya, Russian, trans. David McDuff, Pencil Letter, Alfred A. Knopf, 1986.