Translated by Steve Komarnyckyj
From the Moment
I studied how to write with blood
I didn’t know what to write about,
I saw my living death,
Drank to her health,
Together we kissed the bars of the body.
We yearn now to be on the moon,
So I can reveal the earth,
That seduced my angel,
In the dusk of an inn,
The twilight of other people.
I have ceased to be afraid
Of the gift of life,
The laws of the lawless,
The apple bereft of blood.
Crosses seem happy,
Cats smile, and meander,
The town wanders through villages
From the moment someone writes
With foreign blood,
They must write with their own,
I find no bloodlessness in history,
With the thorny word, stringent as salt.
The Bread of Childhood
Grandmother’s pyrohy oozing cherries, the soil
Fragrant with spring,
These are the heart’s embroidered memories
Touched by the cry
Of a crane.
I sit beneath fir trees and recollect
The sacred village evenings
Grandfather spoke of to me.
‘They were truly rich,’ he said.
‘Something good has been lost since ancient times.
A song? The ring of a sickle,
Life rolled along like a round loaf until time bit
I leave the forest in a dream.
To dance in the meadow, my childhood
Is delicately embroidered
With stalks of wheat.
Dedicated to the Ukrainian poet, Mykola Vinhranovskyi (1936–2004)
Glides into the sea,
Coagulates like mercury,
Makhno’s horses you glimpse in a dream,
The children of nature, lost as the wind
Pray to the river’s icon.
The well of the Steppe holds gold light in the depths,
Swallows preen and fly.
I yearn to my homeland,
Having no mother,
The wooden boards and frescoes of a church,
The shared sky, the Cossacks anguish
And we are free
Of Europe and Asia alike, at liberty
To live… which means to die slowly.
The crystalline current of living poetry,
A stellar voice of the sea
The sun ray passes
Like a razor through the heart,
Into the throat
Fly on pinions of wormwood,
The lycanthropic solace
Of liberty has passed,
The earth is your paradise, the power
Child of nature.
Christmas Polissya. A drip feed. The deepest cold.
The saline heart bears the scars of journey,
The herbal infusion will not cure the soul
Which you lost because you guarded it most.
You study how to smoke and curse,
Protect yourself against the onslaught of deluges.
Write books, plant trees,
Fashion your house like a nest above the river bank’s twists
And then physical training and prayers…
To the Goddess of your ancestors…
The Bible… The Quran…
And honourable glory, blood drenched,
That mist, by the jetty, the mist…
The rural village choir,
You calculate the numbers of stars flying through the rain.
It is easy again, it is arduous again
The village and the town.
Our own and foreign…
I have seen all, I have tested all to destruction.
I love life,
Infinitely deep and unforgiven,
Birthday party guests,
The whole drama that we did not conceive
Though we play our role, our own, our own too…
The roads are scars,
Thresholds are scars,
The Word Is Not an Apple
The word is not an apple,
But the last leaf of the fall.
I converse with the autumnal forest using the language of gestures,
The smoke of my fatherland seeps down to my bones…
I sow my lyrical blood as seed,
A naked voice…
Like the crucified I do not love the mesh
Of trade, religious fanatics with their blank eyes,
The inane hiss of politics…
I yearn for the nocturnal rain,
And yet linger, tangled in waves of fragrance,
From an angelic violin that cries with an imperceptible smile,
Remembering bright, kind, and somewhat inebriated Uncle Vasyl
Gathering nuts in Polissya.
I want to write a song that is like the world
Of all who came or who will come.
Then sleep in grass, as in a wolf skin,
While my genes dance, awaiting resurrection.
First published in A Flight Over the Black Sea (Waterloo Press, 2014). ‘The Bread of Childhood’ was a Guardian Poem of the Week on 12 Oct 2020.
*Translator’s note: Polissya is the poet’s native region in Ukraine. It straddles the borders of Belarus, Poland, Russia and Ukraine and several Ukrainian regions. Its culture is a living museum of ancient Slavonic and Ukrainian traditions and its very name combines the ancient words for marshland and forest. Here, as civilisations and states washed over them, people preserved a culture that stretches back to the pre-Christian era. Ukraine, despite the depredations of totalitarianism, can offer Europe a view of its own past before missionaries spilled across the continent with bibles and crucifixes.