We live

We live, and love, but our lives drift like mist over what we love.
Two steps we are a whisper; ten, gone.

Still, we gather, we gossip, we laugh like humans,
And just like that our Kremlin gremlin comes alive:

His grubworm clutch, all oil and vile,
His deadweight deadwords, blonk blonk.

Listen: his jackhammering jackboots: even the chandelier shakes.
Look: a hairy cockroach crawls along his grin

At the the cluck-cluck of turkey-lackeys, and he busts a gut
At the wobblegobble dance one does without a head.

Tweet-tweet, meow-meow, Please sir, more porridge:
He alone, his grub growing hard, goes No! goes Now! goes

Half-cocked blacksmith, he lifts from hell’s hottest forge
His latest law and with it brands a breast, a groin, a brain,

And like a pig farmer who’s plucked a blackberry from a vine,
Savors the sweet spurt, before he turns back to his swine.

— Osip Mandelstam
(November, 1933)


This poem is known as “The Stalin Epigram.” Mandelstam recited it to a number of people, one of whom informed on him. It led to Mandelstam’s first arrest, in 1934, and to his subsequent exile and eventual death.

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