The final poem of British Standards,
the third and final book of the ‘English Strain’ Project

Monitoring Adam Mickiewicz’ first Crimean Sonnet: The Ackerman Steppe

Who sails the arid Ocean
of the steppes in his Skoda,

ploughing through, plunging
into, green expanse, the wheat-waves?

Whatever flower of the
flood grows now is picked for its rhyme

in these variant
translations, for I am not there

No light. No road. No stars.
He searches the skies for a guide,

but it pours fire in his eyes
from the East (all translation

is stunned into cliché). Is this
the end of curfew? the dawn?

the ancient lighthouse
of Bilhorod-Dnistrovskyi burning,

or the city, burning? They are near.
Stop! Listen! He hears cranes or goats

flinching under hawks or falcons. I
translate them into Ukrainians and

Russians, Molotovs and missiles,
militia wriggling in the mud and

snaking tank columns stuck on the road. In
the hush he listens for voices from the West,

but there is only the hush. Bo boasts
our refuge record, the sanctions we sanction;

he’s still thinking of those party bottles
that will never be filled with petrol.

3rd March 2022


Robert Sheppard



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