This is the last of the 'Wire Through the Heart' poems - it's called 'Malenki Robot' which in Russian, or rather in the Hungarian version of the Russian phrase, 'malenki robot' is 'a little light work'. The Red Army rounded up about a tenth of the men and put them in camps for what they described as three days' light work. Some of them were there two, three years, many of them never came back. This is about a man I spoke to who had this experience and this is what he said.

Malenki Robot


‘Over there in the other country
my sister had daughters I’ve seen once
in forty years, nor visited my dead.
It’s too late now, they’re poor there,
and here I’m just an old working man,
and the only thing left for me to do is die.

‘These are my blunt carpenter’s hands,
and this on their backs the frost
that gnawed them at Szolyva, three winters,
two years I was a prisoner there.
Monday I build doors, Tuesday put on roofs.
Roofs. Doors. My life. Vodka.
It was the priest told me to go,
three days he said, a little light work,
malenki robot, two years building roofs,
and that because I had a trade.
I survived wearing the clothes of those who died,
after a while I survived because I had survived,
and then came home and here the border.’

The wire runs through the heart, dammit,
therefore we will drink cheap Russian vodka
in Janos’ kitchen, and later take a walk
down to the border and look back
into the other world, the village in the mirror
that is the other half of us, here,
where the street stops at the wire
and goes on again on the other side,
and maybe the Gypsies will come to serenade us.

from Shed: Poems 1980-2001 (Bloodaxe, 2001), copyright © Ken Smith 2001, by permission of Bloodaxe Books. Recording from the Poetry Quartets Bloodaxe/British Council 1998-2000, used by permission of Bloodaxe Books Ltd and the British Council

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