Anna and the Scourge

by RC James
First Place (Tie), October 2021
Judged by Donna Emerson

“Rescued from captivity
we will preserve you. . .
mighty Russian word!”

—Anna Akhmatova

We memorized our poems
to preserve them from
winds out of the Kremlin.

My friends, in corners unknown,
now memories enfold you
in the raw weather of release.

As you walk down the Arbat
mind my ashes that remain
a sign of sanguine revival.

Dank cells offer only blank prospects,
a full moon illuminates your path,
promise opens to a peaceful sea.

Remember metal on metal at dawn,
the thud and crunch of boots,
shouts, and cries of the tortured.

Black Marias careened with human loads,
we consoled each other, understanding
that Russian speech was our homeland.

Delirium thrived; we walked by
the frozen grins of corpses,
chains finally unfastened.

Proud Russia writhed in the army’s grip,
I won’t allow emotion now,
a dark shroud protects the memories.

I remember your words and your faces,
there will be new sorrows, but I will
remember our time through them all.

If there is to be a monument, place it
in front of the steel doors where I stood
for hundreds of hours, and an old woman’s

cries echoed through us, where tears
now will flow from bronze eyelids
watching silent ships sail up the Neva.

The poet deftly captures the strident voice of beloved Russian poet and translator Anna Akhmatova (pen name for Anna Andreyevna Gorenko (1889-1966), and draws us to the historical center of Stalinist Russia. Stanzas are carefully crafted, clear and explicit, so that Anna’s humanity and generosity shine through. Even more, Anna’s devotion to Russian speech, her people, her homeland, stand here as a shining light in the face of well-described oppression and torture, significant now as then. ---Donna Emerson