A Week with Zhadan (1)
- By Serhiy Zhadan
Editor's note: There are many ways to show solidarity with the people of Ukraine, and to stand for civilization, against barbarism. For the next seven days, we've decided to offer you a poem from Serhiy Zhadan, so that you will think of his words, and of his struggle today in Kharkiv, and of all the other heroic souls whose voices we have not heard, or heard sufficiently, as well as those we will never hear again: "incanting over every single / lost soul."
To get together and talk — let’s start with what’s most difficult.
Let’s start with the madness of getting used to the night
uncoiling across the sheets.
The river, like a dress lifted over your head,
still remembers the warmth,
still replies to the heart beating
closer to morning, when the poetics
of exhaustion realigned.
Here we are—shouted into the night,
faded like ceramics under the sun.
With a language like birdsquawk.
With voices like animals calling to each other
when fire encircles them.
People from breathless borderlands get together.
Butchers whose bloody fingers have stiffened
as though covered with ink get together.
Eternal drovers bearing the Easter spirit
of the slaughterhouse get together.
Books that smell of grass and milk.
Icons printed on the same press
as futurist manifestos.
The animals smell the sweet language of dawn.
They study the orthography of June fogs
hiding their killers.
Let’s start our march across a green emptiness,
the motherland in twilight,
let’s drive the sacrificial cattle
through the wheat choir tuning up.
Let’s start, all of us who saw
how the quail of souls hide in a field,
who stepped into the water
to dispel its ice-cold anxiety
with a sunburn.
Let’s start with what’s most difficult—with singing
and quenching the fires emerging from the night.
Let’s start by whispering the names,
let’s weave together the vocabulary of death.
To stand and talk about the night.
Stand and listen to the voices
of shepherds in the fog
incanting over every single
Serhiy Zhadan is a Ukrainian poet, writer, essayist and translator. All poems featured here are part of a book of translations by John Hennessy and Ostap Kin published by Lost Horse Press, A New Orthography (2021), co-winner of the Derek Walcott Prize for Poetry 2021 and a finalist for the 2021 PEN America Award for Poetry in Translation. English translations of Zhadan’s other work include three books of prose (Depeche Mode, Voroshilovgrad, and Mesopotamia (which also features poetry) and a collection of poetry What We Live for, What We Die For.
John Hennessy is the author of two collections, Coney Island Pilgrims and Bridge and Tunnel, and his poems appear in many journals and anthologies. Hennessy is the poetry editor of The Common, a print magazine based at Amherst College, and he teaches at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst.
Ostap Kin is the editor of New York Elegies: Ukrainian Poems on the City and translator, with Vitaly Chernetsky, of Songs for a Dead Rooster by Yuri Andrukhovych and, with Ali Kinsella, of The Maidan After Hours by Vasyl Lozynsky.