A Free Snowman

1968 poem by Boris Slutsky.

A Free Snowman

I have deserved the gratitude of Italy.
I have contributed to their history,
To people, art and culture, by and large:
I gave them snow. And plenty. Free of charge.

Italians, captured on the River Don,
Were packed and convoyed in a cattle car
All starved and thirsty, barely hanging on
All hoping that their end was not too far.

Those human rights, as stated in conventions,
Did not pertain to either side’s intentions,
In that big war they didn’t have much worth!
The train’s commandant, vile scum of the earth,
That odious bastard, would agree to bring
One pail of water to those hapless fellows
But not for free: a couple of golden rings
That blackguard then demanded for his favors.

I, in my stripes, just in from the front line
Had kept that moral sense of the divine
Formed by the books of Chekhov and Tolstoy
And in the rearguard, my zeal did not decline
Seeing those wretched men in that convoy.
I came up with a very simple plan:
Into that cattle car I rolled a big snowman.

Oh, how they looked! Their gazes pierced my heart;
In their black depths, there was both gratitude and anguish
When this came back to me at night, my sleep would vanish!

As for the snowman — it was torn apart.

Boris Slutsky


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