Wednesday, April 21, 2010

For National Poetry Month: Andrei Voznesensky, "Someone Is Beating a Woman"

I just wrote about the damage that oppressive regimes do to themselves when they silence and exile their poets, artists, and intellectuals.  As a follow-up to that observation, I want to offer readers today (to celebrate National Poetry Month) Andrei Voznesensky's poem "Someone Is Beating a Woman."

After Khrushchev publicly denounced him in March 1963, ordering him to "clear out of my country," Voznesensky was silenced and spent a number of years wandering from place to place as a fugitive.  And here's his poem:

Someone is beating a woman
In the car that is dark and hot
Only the whites of her eyes shine.
Her legs thrash against the roof
Like berserk searchlight beams.

Someone is beating a woman.
This is the way slaves are beaten.
Frantic, she wrenches open the door
And plunges out--onto the road.

Brakes scream.
Someone runs up to her,
Strikes her and drags her, face down,
In the grass lashing with nettles.

Scum, how meticulously he beats her,
Stilyága, bastard, big hero,
His smart flatiron-pointed shoe
Stabbing into her ribs.

Such are the pleasures of enemy soldiers
And the brute refinements of peasants.
Trampling underfoot the moonlit grass,
Someone is beating a woman.

Someone is beating a woman,
Century on century, no end to this.
It's the young that are beaten.  Somberly
Our wedding bells start up the alarm.
Someone is beating a woman.

What about the flaming weals
In the braziers of the cheeks?
That's life, you say.  Are you telling me?
Someone is beating a woman.

But her light is unfaltering:
There are no religions,
     no revelations,
There are women.

Lying there pale as water,
Her eyes tear-closed and still,
She doesn't belong to him
Any more than a meadow deep in a wood.

And the stars?  Rattling in the sky
Like raindrops against black glass
Plunging down
     they cool
Her grief-fevered forehead.

Trans. Jean Garrigue, from An Arrow in the Wall, ed. William Jay Smith and F.D. Reeve (NY: Henry Holt and Company), pp. 20-23 (originally published in Voznesensky's Antiworlds [1966]).