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Three Poems

CULTURAL STRATUM

 

remember how once in a past life so long ago

you would wake up and casually listen

to the news now

that seems unbelievable just like

thinking about bucha or irpin

you can’t picture those parks full of pine trees

around sanatoriums and old estates

you see only blown-up bridges gutted houses streets

densely covered in the shards of people’s lives

isn’t that what the archaeologists call

a cultural stratum?

skin stripped from a living epoch

laid out on the earth, a bloody rag

before this epoch began we 

listened absentmindedly to the news and lived in cities

with drama theatres in parks full of pine trees we

were naive and beautiful we didn’t have to get excited about

the single cabbage we hunted down in the empty

supermarket we

were like children brushing our teeth in the morning we

would learn the names of places

aleppo sanaa mekelle 

where the epoch, skinned alive, lay in convulsions,

its skin cast aside soaking the ground in blood

waiting for future archaeologists but we

would always forget those names

we would finish brushing our teeth we’d put on our

new trainers and grab a coffee in the kiosk

go down into the metro without having to pick our way

through people sleeping on the platforms we

were creatures made of a different sort of material

softer and pinker we would

explain to our children what war is the way you might explain

what the south pole or the planet mars are and not

like you might explain why you can’t stick your fingers in the electric socket or

climb onto the windowsill when the window is open we

didn’t even know

in that past life so long ago

how many steel centimetres of pain

can be plunged so easily

into our soft, pink bodies

 

 

21 March 2022

 

 

 

 

A BIRD

 

all day I walk around

keeping your name under my tongue

 

afraid to say it aloud lest  

it escape and fly away

 

over the city in which

for twenty days now nobody

turns on the lights at night

 

between the stars and comets

and artillery shells

whose trajectories, in truth, are unknowable 

 

a small bird

with a great red voice

 

a small bird

with a bitter seed of sorrow in its beak

 

but if it were to drop the seed by accident

then even from this

mutilated ground

 

it will grow into

a great tree

of love

 

 

16 March 2022

 

 

 

 

HISTORY SLEEPS AND DREAMS

 

when my grandmother

would tell me 

about how she

at eighteen

was an ostarbeiter in germany

her stories seemed like dreams

 

in those dreams strangers

in a strange land

brought from afar in cattle trucks like cattle

knitted socks from ropes

hanged themselves in greenhouses on german farms

rode bicycles

fell in love

 

I think that maybe to her

a seventy-year-old 

when we were talking

it seemed that

she had dreamed it all

 

the cheerful french prisoners of war

the rosy-cheeked girlfriends with lavish curls

whom she never saw again after the war

who were later greedily devoured

by the always-hungry red motherland

 

and only postcards

with rosy-cheeked bourgeois angels

signed for aniuta

testified to something

bled ink

into wooden desk drawers

 

today my mother’s friend

who just got out

of brovary through a humanitarian corridor

tells us

 

about a woman

who seasoned a dinner

for russian soldiers

with rat poison

(the surviving russians

razed ten houses to the ground)

 

about a man who was shot in his own car

and remained sitting in it

for three days

 

about how when they ran out of food

people ate nuts and honey

just like st john the baptist in the desert

 

her stories seem like dreams

a collective nightmare

from which we struggle to awake

in the depths of which

roam restless empires

 

devouring their own children

as befits such mythical monsters

 

in this dream

as in a thick fog

we stumble around one another

 

my late grandmother

her curly-haired girlfriends

the german farmers

the rosy-cheeked big-eyed angels

the man shot dead near brovary

the woman with the jar of rat poison

the russian conscripts with bulging eyes

and blue tongues

and my mother’s friend’s nephew

still so very young

killed on wednesday

in the territorial defence

 

we catch each other with our elbows

exchange unseeing glances

 

and eat obediently

spoon after spoon

of this thick

bitter

darkness

 

 

31 March 2022


ABOUT THE CONTRIBUTOR

is a poet, scholar, and translator from Kyiv, Ukraine, based in Nanjing, China. She is the author of four award-winning books of poetry in Ukrainian and of the bilingual Pray to the Empty Wells (Lost Horse Press, 2019). Her latest collection Stoneorchardwoods (2020) was named poetry book of the year in Ukraine, and her new book The Ending Songs is forthcoming in 2023. Her work has been translated into 23 languages.

Uilleam Blacker is a lecturer in comparative Russian and East European culture at the School of Slavonic and East European Studies, University College London.

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