That Moment

A prisoner in Stalin's camps kept this notebook, made of wood and birch bark, hidden under his straw bedding. He wrote on this page, from memory, a 1917 poem by Anna Akhmatova. Below, I have made my own version of the poem followed by a few lines of my own about the photo.

I know precisely when it happened --
Monday, the twenty-first. At night,
the roofs of the city enshrouded in mist --
and what -- some idling fool decided
there was a thing in the world called love.

And look at us -- from boredom
or laziness, we bought the lie
and we live it thus: daily we
look forward to meetings; nightly
we dread the moment of parting.
And, oh, we fall slaves
to every passing love song.

But, gradually, this thing I know
will be passed on to everyone,
and a hush will descend.
I figured this out by accident,
and since, have parted ways
from the self I was formerly.
                                             --- Anna Akhmatova, 1917


Somewhere, a nameless man,
a cipher in an unmapped gulag
makes, and conceals
   beneath his dank straw bed,
a birch-bark notebook.
With god knows only what for ink
he writes this poem from memory.
"Akhmatova," he sighs. "I love her."
They have never met. Her bleak work
and its desolating music
his one last link to things of beauty.


  1. Brief and to the point. Your words complement the birch bark poem. An extended haiku.


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