Siberia Burns: A Poem from Russia

August 12, 2021

As another unprecedented wildfire season spreads across and beyond Siberia, conversations about the climate and ecological crisis have reached new but tentative heights in Russia, a major fossil fuel exporter. These shifts were heralded in 2018-2019 by activists who now face a broad governmental crackdown on civil society. During the 2019 fire season, which accompanied mass police suppression of election protests in public squares, Russian feminist Daria Serenko composed this lyric. Rachel Brasier, Serena Clapp-Clark, Paige MacKinnon, Helen Poe, and Elizabeth Tolley created a collective translation during online seminars held by Hilah Kohen at Middlebury College’s Davis School of Russian.

¤

Siberia burns
and from the fires my family
emerges: in mama’s arms lies
a silent hare
on papa’s shoulder,
a dead fox

i am not there, in the smoke
it’s impossible to see
how many we are, as we stand —
an unhewn forest
in the square —
people, charred
in the square
encircle us
i see no faces: all is darkness

approaching us,
breaking branches, they too are afraid
of what they hear
as though that crackle
is their own bones breaking
but it is us
i am a tree and a daughter all at once

i see the hare with mama in his arms
i see the fox with papa on her shoulder
we all scream and exhale smoke
and we breathe in
what’s left of the others

¤

Daria Serenko is a feminist activist, poetess, and public artist. After graduating from the Maxim Gorky Literature Institute, she created Quiet Picket (#тихийпикет), a grassroots action whose participants carried placards on Russia’s urban transit systems to spark daily conversations about topics such as relationship violence and political imprisonment in public space. Serenko has organized support networks for women facing persecution and led solidarity projects such as Femdacha, a safe haven and resting space for activists. Her work has appeared in numerous Russophone publications and in English through the anthology F Letter: New Russian Feminist Poetry (isolarii, 2020).

Rachel Brasier is a recent graduate of the University of Texas at Dallas and a former volunteer with the Peace Corps in Ukraine.

Serena Clapp-Clark is a graduate of Mount Holyoke College.

Paige MacKinnon is a student at Smith College pursuing majors in Government and Russian, East European, and Eurasian Studies. Her academic interests include international security, labor relations, and Russian literature, and she plans to pursue a career in translation and international relations upon graduating in 2022.

Helen Poe is a student at Georgetown University studying Russian and German.

Elizabeth Tolley is a freelance Russian interpreter and translator. She holds a BA in Political Science and Russian from Swarthmore College and an MA in Conference Interpretation from the Middlebury Institute of International Studies.

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Photograph by the European Space Agency of Siberia blanketed in smoke.