Julia Cimafiejeva (Юля Цімафеева): My European Poem

 

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This poem should be written in English.

This poem should be written in German.

This poem should be written in French,

In Swedish, in Spanish,

In my adorable Norwegian,

Maybe in Finnish, Danish and Dutch.

Baltic languages should decide for themselves.

No Belarusian version for the poem,

No Russian version for the poem,

No Ukrainian version for the poem.

The rest are at your choice. 

This poem should be written in the languages

Of human rights organizations,

Of those multiple expressed concerns

by European politicians.

 

So

Shall I get used to the thought

That I could be taken to prison

By the men wearing black,

By the men in plain clothes,

By the men with four fat letters

On their fat black backs?

Otherwise, my country

Won’t gain any freedom.

And it could not work anyways,

As usual.

 

Shall I take it calmly that I

Could be beaten and ultimately

Found guilty for that because

(They would say)

I cried antistate slogans like “Freedom!”

Or “Release all political prisoners!”

Though I would not need to cry them out at all

(Like my Facebook friends and thousands of

Someone else’s friends)

In order to be arrested or beaten.

I won’t have to cry anything,

I won’t have to do anything,

Just stand silently, just be.

I know I have to get used to that thought

Just in case, because it’s so likely to happen.

(Oh, my! I haven’t saved those telephones yet

Whom to contact in case of detention.)

 

I can’t say that in Belarusian,

I can’t say that in Russian,

I can’t say that in Ukrainian,

Only in English: I am afraid,

Only in German: Ich habe Angst,

Only in Norwegian: Jeg er redd.

That’s enough, for other variants,

Please, use Google translate.

The translations should be more

Or less accurate. These are not

Those strange East European languages

With their funny Cyrillic letters.

 

I’m afraid

Like you would be in my place,

If you lived in a country that is not free

Where they’ve had the same president

For 26 (!) years. Oh, my god! more than

Two thirds of my life I’ve spent

Under the power of a crazy person

Whom I’ve never voted for!

 

(I can’t say that in Belarusian.)

But my parents did.

All the time they voted for him,

All six times, and I think

They’ll do that for the seventh,

I’m just afraid to ask. Once

a young daring girl, I got a slap

on the face from my mom

for not being “patriotic” enough.

And my dad used to be a local

election commission member.

I’m afraid to ask whether he was honest

While counting the votes,

I am not sure.

Thank God, he is on pension

Now, but the rules there

Are still the same.

I can’t say it in Belarusian,

I can’t say it in Russian.

 

Sorry, it’s a long poem,

Because it’s a long story,

I spent more than two thirds of my life

Under the power of the man

I’ve never voted for,

Who harassed and suppressed and killed

(They say).

 

And when I come to the literary festivals abroad,

And when I speak English

I try to tell the complicated history of my country

(When I am asked)

As if I am another person,

As if I am like all those European poets and writers,

Who do not have to get used to the thought

That they could be arrested and beaten

For the sake of their country’s freedom.

As if I my ugly history is just a harsh story

That I can easily put out from the Anthology of

Modern European short stories because

It’s too long,

And too dull.

 

When I tell it in English,

I want to pretend that I am you,

That I don’t have that painful experience

Of constant protesting and constant failing,

That nasty feeling of frustration and dismay.        

I want to pretend that I have a hope,

Because when I tell it in Belarusian

I realize, we all realize, there is none

We can look forward to.

 

So forgive me my nagging in a half-broken English,

My Eastern European neverending complaints,

As having read the books you’ve read,

I still want to have a hope,

I still believe I have a right for a hope,

That hope could build its nest

On my roof and sing its songs

In Belarusian

(Not in Russian).  

 

 

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Julia Cimafiejeva (Юля Цімафеева) is a Belarusian poet, translator, and one of the founders and editors of a Belarusian literary magazine PrajdziSvet. She is the author of three poetry collections: The Book of Mistakes (2014), Circus (2016) and ROT (2020). Her poems have been translated into English, Ukrainian, Swedish, Slovenian, Lithuanian, Czech and other languages. Her Polish book “Cyrk i inne wiersze” translated by Bohdan Zadura was published in Lublin in 2018 and her German book “Zirkus” (translated by Thomas Weiler and Tina Wünschmann) was published in Berlin in 2019. She participated in literary festivals in Lithuania, Ukraine, Slovenia, Czech Republic, Poland and Belarus.

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