“Carry Her, Round as the Globe”: Three Poems of War in Ukraine

June 30, 2022

As the war in Ukraine continues, I continue to write poems about it, not because I really want to, but because we are now living with a new vocabulary. With certainty we can echo Theodor Adorno and say that poetry after Bucha and Mariupol is impossible — but in poetry, the impossible is possible. Crime, destruction, and unjustified death infuse tragedy into our words, changing their musical register. The paramedics from Mariupol that carry a wounded pregnant woman on a stretcher and the murdered residents of Bucha become metaphors, which people need to learn by heart. And what can we read in the depths of children’s eyes who escaped with their parents from their cities? Is it the feeling of collective responsibility that poetry attempts to impart to us?

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Exodus

 in the east smoke and ruins
refugees with children:
a missile lands
a siren screams in the darkness

people storm the stations
trains — the scraping of suitcases
a huge exodus to the west
full of children’s tears

golden Sophia all the way
to the Golden Gates
hope don’t leave us
let our legacy and people survive

everyone who returns
will be welcomed to their native home
and our fierce hatred will be
like a sword thrust into the ground

if they will weep
if they will shake with rage
let the music of our loss
pour into our trumpets and our spirit

because these images of children
through train windows
we can’t and will not forget
this is how war looks

on Sophia’s square — close to
Bucha and to Brovary
it seems to be that Khmelnytskyi
is angered by the shelling

For how can you Bohdan-Zynoviy
stay on your horse
when our lines are being attacked
and our cities are on fire?

Translated from Ukrainian by Olena Jennings


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From Mariupol                                                                    

To survive a night in Mariupol
Under the cracked cupola of sky
Beneath the shattered building
In this life on another shore
Who could have known what would happen in March
And who would not survive it?

With these sloping fields
With those whose time is due for childbirth
Who held on with the last of their strength
Smells of blood and smells of urine
The mother-to-be is placed on a stretcher
Paramedic, carry her somewhere

Go on, carry her, round as the globe
Shelling is all around … with every
Step, she hears the fruit of her womb grow
Dim … and she is also floating аway
And the earth recedes and the blood ebbs …
So why are you silent, Paramedic?

Are you stunned by the strikes? The shelling?
Where is this mother and where is this son?
You are also trembling for under their helmets
“they truly have no shame”
And you have exhausted your strength
Our dead have no shame   

I will shout in all directions
Speak not of shame to the enemy
They have killed a mother and son
Assaulted clinics and hospitals
And you … well, scurry alongside the buildings
Run, paramedic, along the street

The veins on your neck are throbbing
Carry on, maybe your rescue will succeed
Of this birthing mother and her son
For his first bath …
If I am rushing you — forgive me

Translated from Ukrainian by Luba Gawur


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Psalm for Bucha

we will never summon them again
with a question mark or the vocative
case that we have
those with arms broken and twisted
who lie in the streets of Bucha
in yards rotting in the rain

a black raven will watch over them
with an eye as black as the enemy
or a cherubim will embrace them
let my poem be their psalm
for Andriy Petro Oksana
sang solo and in a choir

let the missing conjunctions
make you better see Bucha
and hear the bell of terror
let a cherub in camo fatigues
show you pillars and joists
and a shattered pockmarked wall

let him remember all by their names
every word in this psalm
like a world buried in clay
that yesterday breathed under pines
and looked into a dog’s eyes
under the August rain of stars

I don’t know how sorrowful
my sorrow must be in this psalm
and what more words one needs?
Bucha strapped with tape and shot
the beast that came upon us
with ten horns and seven heads

facing these passions and the Passion
Week we are with Taras …
over Andriy Petro Oksana
who float through the sky in chariots
and with sobs loud like a bell
honor Bucha with a psalm

Translated from Ukrainian by Jaroslaw Anders