To Kiss a Forehead

  • To kiss a forehead is to erase worry.
  • I kiss your forehead.
  • To kiss the eyes is to lift sleeplessness.
  • I kiss your eyes.
  • To kiss the lips is to drink water.
  • I kiss your lips.
  • To kiss a forehead is to erase memory.
  • I kiss your forehead.
  • — Translated by Ilya Kaminsky

Marina Tsvetaeva (1892–1941), one of the great Russian poets of the 20th Century, lived during the years of the Russian Civil War in such terrible poverty that her youngest daughter died of starvation. In 1921 she emigrated to Berlin, then to Prague, and then to Paris. But she was shunned by the émigré community for not being anti-Soviet enough. Shortly after she returned to Moscow, her husband was shot on the charge of espionage and her daughter was sent to a labor camp. When the Germans attacked Russia, Tsvetaeva was evacuated to Central Asia, where again she faced dire poverty. She took her own life by hanging on August 31, 1941. No one attended her funeral and the location of her grave is unknown. The translator, Ilya Kaminsky, is a well-known Russian-born American poet. “To Kiss a Forehead” can be found in The Ecco Anthology of International Poetry, a splendid collection of contemporary world poetry edited by Kaminsky and Susan Harris and published by The Ecco Press. The poem is used with permission.

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