A Week with Zhadan (4)
- 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 ... )
(Sun, terrace, lots of green...)
(A woman walks down the street ...)
(On a village street...)
(You led the regiments and liberated cities...)
(Who could survive in the Middle Ages?...)
Here’s another weird story.
A story about our illusions
and our impotence.
At the library she always
stuck to the shelves with books
by her favorite authors.
She stood by those shelves
like a woman standing before a mirror in the morning—
trusting but hesitating a bit.
Poets with precise rhymes
can’t be mistaken.
They always offer solutions.
They always comfort you when you’re down.
One of the first missiles
fell right on the library.
Books flew across the street
like torn pillows
and letters hung in the June air
like the dust of burnt synagogues.
Poetry didn’t help much.
The poets kept quiet.
Not one chose the precise rhyme
for the name of the blown-up schoolgirl
who ran there in the morning
to return books she’d read.
When the army came in,
when they repaired the stacks,
when they started to bring in new books
as if they wanted to fill her up
with a new language,
namely with a new joy,
she kept standing and talking
trying to be understood,
trying to seem persuasive.
Who listened to her then?
Who needed her words?
It’s hopeless to shield yourself with a great
when you’re in the way of people
marching towards death.
Most importantly, I didn’t betray my poets,
she thought, I definitely didn’t betray them.
She thought that but didn’t say it out loud.
She was afraid.
She was thankful.
She hung around the shelf
with the dead poets
as if she were near a radiator
which hadn’t worked in a long time.
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.