The Italian Cross

Mikhail Svetlov

There was a black cross on his chest
No engraving, no design, no patina:
A treasured heirloom charm
Bequeathed to this alien Italian.

My Neapolitan boy what will be left
Of you here on the Russian fields?
Were you not happy enough
On that magnificent bay?

I shot you dead near Mozdok
As you dreamt of distant Vesuvius!
As I dreamed of the Volga flowing free!
Perhaps we could have shared a gondola!

Mind you, I did not come with a gun
To ruin an Italian Summer:
My bullets didn’t whine
Above the sacred land of Raphael.

Here I killed you! But we were both born
Where there is friendship and pride
Where there are epics and sagas
That defy translation. But I ask you:

Are the meanders of the River Don
Much studied by overseas geographers?
Has our ancient homeland Russia
Been ploughed and sown by outsiders?

No! But you were armed and marshalled
To seize and dispossess distant lands —
That cross of yours from your ancestral home
Destined to overshadow your grave.

I will not let you take my country
And enslave it from foreign shores!
I’ll shoot — it is not a matter of justice
Ultimately just a matter of bullets.

You have never had the right to be here!
But glistening in these snowy fields
Your eyes tell of Italy’s blue skies
As they glaze and their light fades.

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