‘If it’s a long snowy walk’

‘If it’s a long snowy walk’

If it’s a long snowy walk from the bus,
Steering by the stars rather than the street lamps,
Then frost will melt on your lips like unripe cloudberries
And the house in mid-January will seem to be a ship.

We climb the steps as though rescued on board
And the dark door opens to the icicle key,
And the customary swift shadows of the company which make
Mischief in the night emptiness, skitter to the side.

The tap in the kitchen whimpers like a puppy, and the floorboard
Squeaks and complains to the owners arriving back late,
And the youngster moon, frozen on its long watch,
Thrusts its horns at the window, like any little beast of the Earth.

We shall kindle a fire, so that good people may come,
So that the bell may ring and ring at our gate…
If the road is long – all this will come to pas –
In mid-January,
But which January?

By Irina Ratushinskaya
written from the Small Zone, a labour camp at Barashevo in Mordovia, three hundred miles southeast of Moscow in January 1985.
translated from Russian by Richard McKane with Helen Szamuely

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