Two Poems from Ukraine's Rock-Star Poet Serhiy Zhadan

Two Poems from Ukraine's Rock-Star Poet Serhiy Zhadan

Tuesday, 1 March, 2022

As our attention continues to stray to the east and the Ukrainians who are literally under fire from Russia, the words of Ukrainian poet Serhiy Zhadan are a reminder that community and solace can be found in art.

Zhadan’s poetry is accessible and lyrical, moving and sharp, combining elements of memoir, travelogue, and history to evoke strong sense impressions. Here are two poems to introduce you to his work; links below to more.

 black and white photo of poet serhiy zhadan standing in front of a concrete wall
Photo Дмитрий Чирик/Facebook.
 

So I’ll Talk About It — Serhiy Zhadan, translated by John Hennessy and Ostap Kin

  • So I’ll talk about it:
  • about the green eye of a demon in the colorful sky.
  • An eye that watches from the sidelines of a child’s sleep.
  • The eye of a misfit whose excitement replaces fear.

  • Everything started with music,
  • with scars left by songs
  • heard at fall weddings with other kids my age.

  • The adults who made music.
  • Adulthood defined by this—the ability to play music.
  • As if some new note, responsible for happiness,
  • appears in the voice,
  • as if this knack is innate in men:
  • to be both hunter and singer.

  • Music is the caramel breath of women,
  • tobacco-scented hair of men who gloomily
  • prepare for a knife-fight with the demon
  • who has just crashed the wedding.

  • Music beyond the cemetery wall.
  • Flowers that grow from women’s pockets,
  • schoolchildren who peek into the chambers of death.

  • The most beaten paths lead to the cemetery and water.
  • You hide only the most precious things in the soil—
  • the weapon that ripens with wrath,
  • porcelain hearts of parents that will chime
  • like the songs of a school choir.

  • I’ll talk about it—
  • about the wind instruments of anxiety,
  • about the wedding ceremony as memorable
  • as entering Jerusalem.

  • Set the broken psalmic rhythm of rain
  • beneath your heart.
  • Men that dance the way they quench
  • steppe-fire with their boots.
  • Women that hold onto their men in dance
  • like they don’t want to let them go to war.

  • Eastern Ukraine, the end of the second millennium.
  • The world is brimming with music and fire.
  • In the darkness flying fish and singing animals give voice.

  • In the meantime, almost everyone who got married then has died.
  • In the meantime, the parents of people my age have died.
  • In the meantime, most heroes have died.
  • The sky unfolds, as bitter as it is in Gogol’s novellas.
  • Echoing, the singing of people who gather the harvest.
  • Echoing, the music of those who cart stones from the field.
  • Echoing, it doesn’t stop.

rule

As If This Winter Never Happened — Serhiy Zhadan, translated by John Hennessy and Ostap Kin

  • As if this winter never happened,
  • we had no expectations, no worries,
  • hadn’t listened carefully
  • to the loudspeakers of December,
  • hadn’t halted motionless
  • before the orchestral truth of blizzards.

  • As if it wasn’t us who prepared
  • for the power of ice
  • born out of lovelessness.

  • As soon as the damp cursive of thaw
  • appears in the air,
  • the world explodes
  • like a crowd shown
  • the severed head of a tyrant.

  • Eternal the fire above the meadows.
  • Eternal our devotion to
  • the open heart of the river.

  • And the first to wake up are always
  • the booksellers at street markets,
  • and they lay out their treasures along
  • the city’s bridge.

  • And poets are already looking around
  • in the wind from their old wet anthologies
  • swollen like pillows,

  • chucked out of the school program,
  • but not banished from life,

  • they react to the laughter,
  • to the farewell rustle
  • of snow under boots,

  • they adjust their ties,
  • warm up between
  • covers.

  • Poets whom no one trusts,
  • poets from the history of literature.

  • Betrayed by lawyers,
  • left by wives,
  • those who drowned, hanged themselves, suicides:

  • they tell their biographies,
  • cultivate in us the love
  • of life.

rule

About Serhiy Zhadan

Serhiy Viktorovych Zhadan (born 23 August 1974) is a Ukrainian writer, translator, and musician. Asymptote, the journal for literature in translation, called him the Rock-Star Poet, in recognition of his output — more than two dozen novels and books of poetry — and his refusal to kneel and kiss the Russian flag during a pro-Kyiv demonstration on Freedom Square in the city of Kharkiv. Rather than paraphrase here, we urge you to read this fascinating profile of Zhadan or this one at The New Yorker — and here are two more poems.

Top image courtesy of Ruslan Lytvyn/Shutterstock.

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