Painting: Another Kind of Icon

By Lydia Bodnar-Balahutrak

 

UKRAINIAN POEMS ABOUT CHORNOBYL

(in translation)

 

(NOTE: Chornobyl is the name of the town in Ukraine, where the atomic disaster occurred on 26 April 1986. The town is situated near the river Prypiat.)

 

 

FORESTS NEAR PRYPYAT

by Oksana Pakhliovska

 

 

Forests near Prypyat flare.

Dry

Forests

Burn

in May.

 

 

... Voices of your fowl

and your ancient stamps.

 

 

Age-old pine forests

now suddenly

defenseless.

These burned-down trunks

and crowns reduced to ashes!

 

 

Smoke hovers above pines,

and you

raving

in the rain.

There will be neither years nor centuries for you,

but ahundred fires and scorched fields.

 

 

You don't have to grow here,

for what

would you remember now?

 

 

You toss black pines

like crosses above the ashes.

 

 

The burnt horizon disappears

beyond grey

winds.

...Your earth. Your river.

 

 

Your conflagration in May.

The last bird on a branch,

A tiny nest —

like a live coal.

...You burn, pinned to the earth,

for your roots— are here.

 

Translated by Michael M. Naydan

 

 

 

CHORNOBYL'S VILLAGES

by Oksana Pakhliovska

 

Ukraine grieved, for there was nowhere to live life

(Traditional song)

 

 

I will not look. It never was — like this.

Beside the road the same old grasses grow.

But oh the dread—this new made village

And these towns — now lying empty for eternity.

 

 

New houses — with no boundary, nor end.

Where can I turn for consolation now?

The grove has no sapling —to call my own!

Nor even a small path into the grove.

 

 

Agitate, people, clouds and birds,

Songs, trees, the tongues and dialects!

Do you think storks returning from warm climes

Will find their way across these clones of roots?

 

 

Where will the emerald-green grasses grow

Once all the living meadows are all gone?

Agitate, people, while you still live, —

Agitate, people, lest this come to pass!

 

 

About us hums the worldwide marketplace.

Belated realization wrings her hands.

Ancestral memory — like an ancient bard —

Goes to the people, staggering and blind.

 

Translated by Volodymyr Hruszkewycz

 

 

 

 

LETTER NO. 34

by Sofia Maidanska

 

Chornozem has risen and looks in my eyes....

Pavlo Tychyna

 

You'll always be able to find me

quite easily in the desert,

amidst hollyhocks,

guelder-roses and wells;

like a pillar of salt

I'll be standing there in a white scarf.

At the place where for three hundred years

chornozem will not rise,

will not rise

will not look in my eyes,

at the tomb of my own people,

who haven't yet died,

haven't died,

have not died! ...

Cripples grow up!

Grow up deaf and dumb,

grow up blind,

leaning on crutches of a foreign tongue,

jumping frantically across a stage.

You'll always be able to find me

quite easily in the desert,

amidst hollyhocks,

guelder-roses and wells,

like a pillar of salt

I'll be standing there in a white scarf.

 

translated by Larissa M. L.Z. Onyshkevych

 

LETTER NO. 27

by Sofia Maidanska

 

 

0nly once

does a clod of soil

fall on the grain

of our coffin —

But my dear one,

don't cry!

the time will come—

and my shoot will gently pierce through

the ceiling of my sarcophagus.

and I'll grow as a primose,

through the palms held tightly for prayer...

And Father shall shout:

At last!

It's time to leave the Ark.

Charred waters have receded

from Chornobyl,

and a dove

has brought a brach of guelder-rose...

 

translated by Larissa M. L.Z. Onyshkevych

 

 

The above poems (except "Love", below) are from a mini-anthology (edited by

L. Onyshkevych) of Ukrainian poetry, included in Shifting Borders: East

European Poetries of the Eighties, Rutherford: Fairleigh Dickinson Univ. Press, 1993.

 

 

 

 

LOVE

by Oksana Zabuzhko

 

 

Embraces trickled down like water,

a night lamp split our shadow...

Not an offering, not passion, not a gift —

Just the effort to stay alive.

 

From cities plagued by strontium,

Over death-bed agonies

An evanescent bridge gently illuminates

Bare intertwined arms.

As long as this sun is in the night,

As long as these rapid flashes continue —

Love, tremble, and shout

This— final! — moment at the tip of a knife!

Splitting apart the mirrors of night,

Like portraits we step out of frames —

But from our lips a rough

Breath dissipates like ashes...

As if you wanted to catch a breath —

But your lungs are filled,

And the imprints of bodies grow stiff

In the hot crumpled air.

From where, how, and why

Did this pale reflection on the ceiling appear

Look, my love, what's there beyond the window?

He looked and said:

   A desert...

 

Translated by Michael M. Naydan

 

 

(publ. in The Ukrainian Quarterly, LII, 1, Spring 1996, 24)