Monday, 19 November 2007

Kreka of Vyatichi


The bones in this small urn
attest that once I lived
Inside this barrow as in life
I have the place prescribed for me

Before my body - lying broken
days and weeks beneath a bush -
was claimed and recognised as mine
death and battles claimed the others

Besha my much older brother
burned on fires to cleanse his spirit
when the raiders poured his blood
by the Don where he took theirs

His women and his children wailed
as women and their children must
and when the fires had died away
their weeping ended at the barrow

Besha - strongest of our tribe -
my brother who would kill the foe
and kill the friend who claimed his temper
my brother who had killed our father

Seshka father of the tribe - who smiled at me -
lies in the urn close by my brother’s
His white hair kindled in the flame
was once a crown above his wisdom

He took on several wives in turn
and guarded all his little children
and showed us how to hunt and fight
But Besha was the favoured eldest

Besha - brother-man of childhood -
always argued with our father
but only once he raised his axe
in anger - at the feasting season

My mother Maga stood between them
- her golden plaits her eyes on fire -
beside the baking-oven glimmer
Her eyes stayed steady as she died

Inside that smaller urn she lies
behind my father Seshka’s bones
which grief interred within the time
we took to burn and place her there

And further back and further back
the years and ancestors still lie
My father’s uncle - killed by bear
My father’s father - dead of fever

All my other kinfolk lie
in places distant now and lost
They fell to fever or to foe
or rode away and still ride on

But I have lain ten centuries
A son - a man of middle-age
Kreka of Vyatichi
who travelled once to sail the Don

I brought my woman back from there
She bore eight children - five survived
Four sons to carry on my line
and Maga with my mother’s eyes

Kreka - whose descendents pour
around the Volga and the Oka
west along the Vistula
south to touch the River Danube

If I had lived my mother Maga
she who died with eyes on fire
would still stare back from every woman
She who once outfaced my brother

copyright 1998 Charlotte Peters Rock

* details taken from Archaeology in the USSR p273(ish) by A L Mongait - A Pelican book

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