Translated from the Russian into English for the first time by Sasha Dugdale.
A Hungarian railway station
In the crush of days.
From behind the fence an iron wreath
‘There was a military hospital here’, they told me,
‘Back in the forties.’
How many forgotten, how many unforgettable
Dead and living.
All overgrown – dusty grass, the colour
Of the dry skies.
Racing past in the middle of summer,
‘There was a barracks here under the Empire’s
Yoke’, they explain.
‘And gunners reared their quadrigae
Franz’s whiskers, Svejk’s boots,
Your turn has come!
A gap in the graveyard fence weeded over,
The sun bakes down.
Europe crossed by collapsing trenches,
Berlin in defeat.
Still I know nothing softer than
The sound of these holy names.
Europe’s girls, Gorbachev on their T-shirts –
A wonder to behold.
Europe’s boys in nondescript shorts,
‘Fords’ and ‘Mercedes’.
What am I staring at, an old foreigner,
In striped attire.
I want their soft blushes to take me,
Their careless cool.
Oh, how long, how eternally long, I’ve been away
From it all.
Oh, how quietly the wreath’s flowers touch
A European wind.
Let me not fall black-lipped, final
In striped silk
But let me pay back with smaller currency
The comfort and the debt.
And the wreath trembles like the mourning lyre
And the Danube blinds.
My friend, make the most of this orphaned life
But don’t die.