2018 Gulf Coast Prize in Translation:
Air Raid

Polina Barskova transl. by Valzhyna Mort

these poems describe the trace left in me by the letters

Up jump grab who got mail
Down calm breathe who got mail
Write write write who got mail


“Returned mail” – urn mail – urrrrrrrrr
“Doesn’t reside at this address” - doesn’t
side – doesn’t dress – doesn’t “Unable to deliver”

Already 10 hours
Already 10 years
Already years your silence worries me


Tatochka, this is your papochka writing.
You are – on my heart – a patch, a pooch.
Which day is it today? Day is today.
every day is today.
Yesterday not tomorrow. 

I fit with one officer
We fit into one set of plank beds
He below me above

He is not bad.
Every night he screams in an unknown tongue.
At first I was intrigued, tried to guess the language family.
Now I’m languished, sad. At night I wonder whether it’s a secret message to me, if only I
      could decipher it, I 
                                                                                                                           would know

when I’ll get to see you again

What else?
I’m treating my teeth.
Soon I’ll get iron teeth, stainless steel teeth,
so yes, soon I’ll have steel teeth and will chew on iron.
How are your teeth? Take good care of them, sweet dove.

October 1941


Little Tata!

It’s me, your grandmother Big Tata.
Grandmother – random other – grandbarrell.
Remember on my varicose columns
I trotted after you through the garden?
How you were embarrassed and mocked me,
pretended to be out by yourself.
Now you are indeed by yourself.
And me too
in the garden
by myself.

Your father grew unwell and left the other day.

People would phone each other: “How’s your health?”
One was “unwell,” the other – “hospitalized.”
Everybody knew what this meant.

Your father grew unwell and left the other day.
But before he left
the three of us would come here where acorns.

October 1941


Dear beloved Sweetpoochkins!
I’ve asked them where I am: village of Yermurtla.
I’ve asked them who I am: dug
out of where? They turn away saying nothing.

I’ve asked them what do I have?
Grandma’s old dress and a pencil.
Of boots, of soap, of envelopes, I have none.


:Pencil; red ink over the text of the letter, diagonally, on the first page: “c(omrade) Miller. Please stop writing letters to this address. He is NOT here. I’m already sad for you writing to him so often while he isn’t here. I’m enclosing his new address: Sverdlovsk region.
village of Tabary. 239/3.
[7 crossed out lines]
At the end three letters could be distinguished:
To repeat this until you understand the sender’s intent.
To repeat this until you understand the censor’s intent.
Past passive participle, plural or singular?
A verb? A noun?
Spelled in one word or separately?
One and separately


Thank you so much in advance for the package oh please let it arrive!
If you can: send paper and envelopes.
But I beg you, only as long as it’s not a sacrifice!
Not at the expense of your own wellbeing!
Send if you can: food, whatever is cheapest,
I won’t turn down dog’s fat.
So if an opportunity arises, please organize the sending of this fat,
salt it so it doesn’t go bad, if there’s an opportunity to smoke it a little
that would be nice, but let’s agree to call it goat’s fat.
Perhaps one day we’ll see each other again, an opportunity to thank you
for your kindness and for catching the dogs.
If this doesn’t work out
I’d be happy with bran
and oil meal or
soy or cottonseed


Darling girlkins!
How happy I am that you are writing – about me I have nothing to write.
Life in Leningrad defies description.
I’m suffering from a popular illness (diarrhea) and walk with a stick.
But what happiness that you are writing.
Your papa isn’t – we haven’t heard from him in a long time.
It appears he has not been receiving my letters.
I’ve sent money twice,
                                                                                              got positively no response,
so it’s safe to conclude that he isn’t there.
We are relying on time now.

I’m sitting in a bomb shelter, my darling dove.
In the dark I remember your face.
What happiness your letters.
I’m forever happy you are not with us.
I remember you always.
Happiness – happiness – what happiness –
three letters from you one after another!
What happiness that right now you are not with me.

7. P.S.

Starting today it’s twelve months and eight days
until I see you again my little daughter, my dove.
Starting today it’s ten years.
I was sentenced to ten extra years, my sweet girlkins.
The old sentence I’ve finished serving doesn’t count.
With this I close this letter being as I am out of paper and fire.
When will we hold each other
unable to tear away?
“When they entered the apartment, it wasn’t even plundered,
but – an old woman half-insane, half-alive.”
Girl: unable to tear away. 


This text was sparked by the correspondence of the Miller family published in Experiment: A Journal of Russian Culture, volume 21 (2015).