Polina, 3 years old, lives in an orphanage.
In her blue eyes, it’s a black and white world.
She wants to colour everything.
But children are not allowed crayons at the orphanage.
Polina does not see, yet, that the world is unfair,
the odds are stacked against her. She is not worried. Yet
she asks all her possible mothers
for a box of crayons. They promise but
never deliver. See, the head of the orphanage
keeps whispering in their ears – Polina’s mother
has schizophrenia. Which they believe
though it may be a lie.
Stubborn Polina asks and asks again.
Polina’s stubbornness is bigger than schizophrenia.
Polina’s stubbornness is stronger.
Polina’s stubbornness is Polina’s fate.
Keep asking, Polina, ask and ask and ask for your crayons.
Notes on this poem
One of the many joys of being invited to a poetry festival is the opportunity to meet talented poets from around the world. Nene and I met at Riga’s Poetry Days festival during which we participated in a lovely Sunday ‘Poetry Walk’, allowing us the chance to speak between short recitals. Yet, once the event is over, connections can slip into the ether. So, I was surprised and flattered when Nene began our translation exchange via email shortly after the festival ended. She began by sending me Georgian translations of my work alongside astute questions about the poems. I don’t speak Georgian but I feel I can gain some insight from the way another poet works – Nene was considerate but confident, and asked the kinds of questions I’d ask as translator, trying to solve problems inherent in moving poetry from one language to another.
Eventually, Nene showed me some samples of her own work in English. The poems had a bite to them, and I wanted to know more. I was lucky enough to get a grant from Creative Scotland to work one-to-one with Nene in St Petersburg for a month. During that time we met regularly and would create rough, very literal, drafts together. I’d work on the drafts for a few days and then we’d meet again so I could ask Nene the kinds of questions she’d asked me. Over time, the poems got polished, and I hope I’ve managed to capture some of the sharpness, compassion and energy of the original works.
– Ryan Van Winkle