Vox Populi

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Nina Kossman: Upon seeing a portrait of Genrikh Yagoda* on a wall in a Moscow police station

Drawn and redrawn
so many times over,
caught and let go
so many times
that even they lost count;
so many times renamed,
so many slogans abandoned,
so many limbs bound and loosed,
so many bullets in so many backs of heads,
so many bodies in so many mass graves,
so many feet that did not run away,
so many mouths that did not speak,
so many inheritors of what can’t be described,
so many grandchildren of victims
so many grandchildren of perpetrators
that even the memory of whose grandfather
was a victim, and whose, a perpetrator,
has been lost.


*Genrikh Grigoryevich Yagoda was a Soviet secret police official who served as director of the NKVD the Soviet Union’s security and intelligence agency, from 1934 to 1936. Under Stalin, Yagoda supervised the arrests, show trials, and executions of countless innocent people. 

“Rumpelstiltskin’s Parents” (painting by Nina Kossman)

Nina Kossman is a bilingual writer, poet, translator of Russian poetry, painter, and playwright. Among her published works are three books of poems in Russian and in English, two volumes of translations of Tsvetaeva’s poems, two books of short stories, an anthology she put together and edited for Oxford University Press, and a novel. Her work has been translated into Greek, Japanese, Hebrew, Spanish, Persian, and Dutch. A recipient of UNESCO/PEN Short Story Award, an NEA translation fellowship, and grants from Foundation for Hellenic Culture, the Onassis Public Benefit Foundation, and Fundación Valparaíso, she lives in New York.

Poem and image copyright 2021 Nina Kossman. All rights reserved.

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