Note: This poem is a transcreation in conversation with Marina Tsvetaeva, a twentieth-century Russian poet who lived through the Russian Revolution of 1917 and the Moscow Famine. The writer and translator Madhu Kaza introduced me to the concept of transcreation, an Indian term, which she describes as an approach to translation that’s “not extremely concerned with accuracy and fidelity to the original text.” Tsvetaeva herself had an unorthodox relationship with translation, once writing: “I tried to translate…but then decided—why should I get in my own way? The result was I rewrote it.” My transcreations investigate her fraught relationship to caretaking/motherhood, her psychic extremity, and her drive to pursue poetry above everything else. Her unapologetic rawness, radical bravery, and belief in the total supremacy of art was a source of great strength and dire conflict within herself and with others. I’m drawn to how her writing captures the complexity of women’s experiences in art, parenthood/selfhood, and political upheaval.

Grace MacNair

Your hands! Not even the willow in its silver budding
has touched me like that.

To me—for all the desperate who crowd
your earthly doorstep—you are God’s daggered crucifix.

Each night under the icon’s gaze,
it is your eyes I feel—and to you I pray.


Your voice heats the wire like a thousand voices—beneath it
the wheat fields show us how to bow down!

In blasphemy, seraphic bells on the carriages call holy! holy! holy!
They say, this is not for you, O Lord.

You enter my ear like a spike—I am forced to stand—
your voice vaults a dark dome over my listening.

Grace MacNair is a poet, teacher, and healthcare professional. Born and raised in North Carolina, she currently lives in Brooklyn, NY. Grace has received residencies and fellowships from Ragdale, Marble House Project, Virginia Center for the Creative Arts, Monson Arts, the Carolyn Moore Writers House, Bethany Arts, Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference, and Bread Loaf Translators’ Conference. Grace was selected by Yona Harvey as the winner of Radar Poetry’s 2021 Coniston Prize and by Safia Elhillo as the winner of Palette Poetry’s 2022 Emerging Poet Prize. Her poems have appeared or are forthcoming in The Threepenny ReviewThe Missouri ReviewFrontier PoetryBest New Poets 2022, and elsewhere. Grace’s micro-chapbook, EVEN AS THEY CURSE US, is available from Bull City Press.