ON POETS AND THE UKRAINE WAR
Poets are in their third millennium of recorded writing about war, dating back to The Iliad and the Mahabharata. Bertolt Brecht sums it up: In these dark times, / Will there also be singing? / Yes, there will be singing. / About the dark times.
In “Against Forgetting”, US poet Carolyn Forché anthologizes “poetry of witness.” While there’s no easy definition, one can note that such poems both acknowledge a traumatic event as well as allowing the poet to exert some control over the event’s effects. Poems of witness are less about the specifics of what’s being written and more about resonance within the reader.
It’s difficult for many of us to understand at a deep level what’s going on in Ukraine, in addition to conflicts in other countries. What should we feel, how should we react, what can we do that will really make a difference?
The poets help navigate these landscapes.
from Ukrainian poet Lyuba Yakimchuk
the children scatter across the field the children
run, in each a little rabbit’s terror
and a heart’s drumbeat…
from UK poet Simon Armitage’s “Resistance”:
an air-raid siren can’t fully mute
the cathedral bells –
from Ukrainian poet Serhiy Zhadan:
Take only what is important. Take the letters.
Take only what you can carry.
Take the icons and the embroidery. Take the silver,
Take the wooden crucifix and the golden replicas.
Take some bread, the vegetables from the garden, then leave.
We will never return again.
from Japanese haiku master Basho:
with dewdrops dripping
I wish I could wash
this perishing world
From “Darkness Invisible” by Ukrainian poet Yuri Izdryk:
just as black and white merge in a dance instead of a fray
just as prayer and profanity mingle within a gray din
evil can’t be discerned—like death seeded in you and in me
evil has merged with the world—it’s as if it were gone
while we two are together, I keep faith in light, love, and warmth
and in mercy, which conquers invisible darkness
from “The Ghost of Heaven”by Carolyn Forché:
All who come
All who come into the world
All who come into the world are sent
Open your curtain of spirit
POSTCARDS FROM BORGES
the story asks
to take a ride
in the story
dog speaks Afrikaans –
of the Springbok moon
stories on his phone,
posts them on Tumblr
the pond holds
the creek by the hand –
mother and child
Emily Bronte models
Cathy and Heathcliff
after Sylvia and Ted
tunes up and plays
the ugly duckling –
nouvelle a clef
cutting Canis Major’s paw –
in a room of her own
writes a coded novel
the ancient tree
decides that it’s time
to finally sing
the story asks
to rest in the arms
of the story
down the rabbit hole
inside a flash drive
a writer he calls
IN THE COURTYARD OF LOST TOYS,
near the pride of plush lions,
a blue stuffed dinosaur
stands on a birdcage nailed
to a wall, just over a shelf,
the resting place for a doll
with red hair, raggedy clothes
and a broken neck, staring
sightlessly to her right.
these are just two of hundreds
which (who!) found their way here,
to a shared urban courtyard
at number one Mukachivska Street
in L’viv, Ukraine, a bittersweet
museum, perhaps, or a kinetic
shrine to the abandoned toys
and children, lost and found.
were they lost or were they left,
discarded? will they find their original
parent (read: child) or is adoption
their path ahead? who rearranges
the careful display and how old
are they? do the curators listen
to the toys themselves, to their
songs of grief and longing?
will the dinosaur find a magical
doctor who can fix little redhead
making her live and alive, to sing
and dance a pied piper’s song
that will bring their parents
(a boy and a girl, probably)
to this place of longing
where they can all go home
THE NAME OF THE RAIN
Tell me your name, says the clear, deep water of the Red Sea, the warm, oily water of the Dead Sea, the startling blue water of the Mediterranean Sea.
Tell me your name, says the wind to the high plateau of the Negev desert, the cloud to the granite cliffs of Wadi Rum, the olive tree to the rocky soil of the orchard.
Tell me your name, says the red sand dune to the gazelle, the honeybee, the hoopoe.
As the water cascades down her glowing skin, the young woman whispers into the rain, tell me your name.