7 April 1978, somewhere in the Soviet Union
A shepherd and schoolteacher
with never-ending pastures in his eyes,
and in the movement of his fingers, chalk dust.
Tatars, horsemen faster than Crimean wind,
were squeezed into dark cabs,
the finest tank drivers of the Red Army.
Not Cengiz! He had flunked their vision test,
nor memorized the length of a barreled gun,
the diameter of its muzzle.

But he could fix anything:
the bicycle of our sergeant,
the carburetor of the battalion’s truck,
the broken spirit of a soldier,
his toolkit always attached to his belt,
his fur hat slightly tilted toward his laughter.

As soon as we are gone,
No more pain, no more suffering to shun.
As long as we are here,
So many pleasures, so many joys to find.

The last time I saw him,
the sergeant was yelling at him to fire his pistol 
from a position in front of an immobilized T-34,
– not his barn, not his schoolhouse –
the same never-ending pastures in his eyes,
in the hesitation of his fingers the same chalk dust.

Now, so many years later, every afternoon
sitting in this nameless café all alone, 
an arm missing, an eye almost blind,
I browse through our favorite poems: 

“Of what does the homeland smell?
Of a dry blade of grass, 
Caught in a child’s hair…”

O Stalin, fearless leader of the International Proletariat!
Where have you taken him, I wonder?
To a nameless grave next to the battlefield?
To an Özbek metal factory, near Taşkent?
To a diamond mine, in Yakutland, in east Siberia?

Whenever I close my book,
a green  meadow covers Gorky Square;
the honor guards drop their rifles,
the school children run joyfully after a class,
– Cengiz’ smile on everybody’s face.

 Lilia Budzhorova, “Kak pakhnet rodina?” cited by Edward A. Allworth in The Tatars of Crimea, Return to Homeland, Durham University Press, 1998 – ISBN 0-8223-1994-2, Page 3.

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