A Bilingual Poem from Kyrgyzstan

March 28, 2022
A tomb, built from clay, with rounded shapes suggestive of a mosque, sits in a sparsely covered grass field outside the walls of a city
A Kyrgyz Soviet tomb / Photo by Evgeni Zotov / Flickr


Friend, when you visit cemeteries, don’t be afraid.
All the dead are Kyrgyz, and most of them you know.
Over here is Kerim. You knew him well.
And Karakoichu. Alym. Bekish. Sabyr. And the others . . .

You’d better kneel and recite the Quran.
Read to them with a pleasant voice. Call them by name.
After all, loyalty is a duty.
Respect your memories of them.

And when the time comes to join them,
know you’ve got a plot there too. And when
you’ve completely decomposed and left it empty,
who’ll bless you are your friends.


Ойлой жур

Коркпо курдаш мүрзөлөргө барганда,
Кыргыз алар, болгондо да тааныш да.
Кечээ эле бирге жүргөн Керим бар,
Каракойчу, Алым, Бекиш, Сабырлар . . .

Чөкө түшүп куран оку а көрөк,
Черин жазып арбагына багыштап.
Чынын айтсак, тирүүлүктүн парзы ошол,
Унчукпастан жүрүш керек кадырлап.

Ошол жайда сенин дагы энчиң бар,
О дүйнөгө аттанганда буйруган.
Оордуң бошоп, биротоло кетсең да,
Ойлоно жүр дуба кылаар элиң бар.

Translation from the Kyrgyz

Munur Mambetaliev was born in Tash-Dobo, Kyrgyzstan, in 1932. A journalist and decorated war veteran, he is the author of nineteen books, including Selected Poems.

Yahya Frederickson is a professor of English at Minnesota State University Moorhead. He has served as a Fulbright Scholar in Syria, Saudi Arabia, and Kyrgyz Republic. His collections of poetry include In a Homeland Not Far: New and Selected Poems (Press 53, 2017) and The Gold Shop of Ba-‘Ali (Lost Horse Press, 2014). His translations with Muhammed Shoukany of contemporary Saudi Arabian poets appear in New Voices of Arabia: The Poetry: An Anthology from Saudi Arabia (I. B. Tauris, 2012).

Gulzamira Mambetalieva is a senior English lecturer at Kyrgyz National Balasagyn University in Bishkek. An active translator of Kyrgyz, Russian, and English literature, she is the author of A Path from the Village (Bishkek Press, 2012) and Glossary of Psycholinguistic and Neurolinguistic Terms and Interpretations: Essays and Extracts (Bishkek Press, 2013), and the compiler of Munur Mambetaliev: Honest as the Spirit (Uluu Toolor Press, 2015), the collected poems of Munur Mambetaliev.