Earlier this month, the writers organization PEN America hosted a Zoom event bringing together Ukrainian and American writers. Listening to the Ukrainians read their work aloud was deeply moving. As Ukrainian writer Oksana Lutsyshyna said, “Many of us are tormented and driven by both rage and compassion, and perhaps poetry is one of the best ways to address both.”
Here are poems by some of the writers who read that day.
Lovers on a Bicycle
By Ostap Slyvynsky
She sits riding on the frame, like a bird
perched on a branch, puffed up, mature,
with two clenched
knees that signal sweetly
to the truck drivers passing by.
Him we don’t see clearly, but we hear
his flask clanking against the seat with every
pedal-stroke. He’s humming a ditty,
where did he pick it up, which war zone? No one’s heard it here.
She’s holding a handful of hazelnuts and feeds him
without turning — she passes them back and he
catches them with his mouth, which resembles
a fringed brown patch.
On the way back from the station, she’ll be alone,
looking like a paper doll,
dry, straight, two-dimensional,
used to making do with this love, as she
is used to making a meal out of nothing —
a dash of tea, a couple of potatoes.
She will ride through the first bout of rain,
reeling with her feet the over-exposed film — an endless
blank frame, where he runs into the living room
and spins her in his arms.
So it goes, this empty language of love, bargaining with hope
like a one-legged chair with a stove: let me be
at least until midday. I won’t
live through the night.
Translated by Anton Tenser and Tatiana Filimonova
We Carry Our Dead
By Halyna Kruk
we carry our dead like children
lay them out in the plaza and encircle them
in the frost the snow bewildered
as if none of us yet knew
it was so easy to die
everyone still hopes
they will lie there and then get up
for what should we tell their moms
what to tell their children
who will tell them the worst
a person runs to meet a bullet
with a wooden shield
and a hot heart
and a head in a ski helmet
full of blood
mom, I’ve got my hat on he shouts into a dead phone
mom, his hat is too thin the bullet hisses
Translated by Ali Kinsella and Dzvinia Orlowsky
My God Spends All Night
By Marjana Savka
My god spends all night forming his battalions,
Is a crack shot, wages wars.
My god forgives my curses
As he polishes his stones.
My god won’t hide behind my back,
Throws quilted covers over children.
My god buys tourniquets
Then lines up to give blood.
My god can’t get a good night’s sleep
While the entire country’s standing guard.
My god allows me never to forgive
And lets me call things as they are.
Translated by Askold Melnyczuk
Who Is on My Side, You Ask
By Oksana Lutsyshyna
who is on my side, you ask
who is on my side? — this tree here,
as if it could be against you?
as if trees could be against people?
a whole park of trees
a whole forest, you could say — and are all on your side
all of them
and the cat? is the cat against you?
no, the cat is on your side
this cat and all the world’s cats
all — on your side, all — your army
and gods? yours and others — and everyone in the world?
wouldn’t they help you?
of course, they would
they are on your side
how could they be — against you?
and that teacher that said — thoughts are everything?
what’s his name — Swami Vishnudevananda
is he — against you?
why waste his time! of course,
he is on your side
on your side
and the sea? what — you think, the sea is against you?
all its waves and pebbles and beaches
visible and invisible
everything is for you, don’t doubt it
every day and every minute
do you hear — the sea roars?
it says to you: I
am on your side
on your side
and music? which of the notes is against you?
which of the melodies?
Mozart? rappers? pianists?
The Accademia Bizantina? Paul McCartney?
no, what are you thinking
everyone is on your side
on your side
and there is no one against you
and there will never be
and so love, keep on loving
don’t be afraid
Translated by Olena Jennings
Ukrainian writers will be featured at a hybrid event (in person and online) Thursday, March 24, at 5 p.m. at Goethe-Institut Boston, 170 Beacon St., Boston.
Joan Wickersham is the author of “The Suicide Index” and “The News from Spain.” Her column appears regularly in the Globe.