Two Poems by Serhiy Zhadan, translated by Valzhyna Mort

Serhiy Zhadan – translated by Valzhyna Mort


from Stones


We speak of the cities we lived in—
that went
into night like ships into the winter sea,

we speak of the cities that suddenly lost their ability to resist—
in front of our
eyes, like a circus show where every acrobat
dies, and so does each laughing clown; enchanted,
you watch,
never turning away (and inconspicuously
on the circus set
you grow up).

* * *

Now we remember: janitors and the night-sellers of bread,
gray, like wrapping paper,
taxi drivers with klaxons instead of hearts,
children who grew up
among the old furniture
(furniture smelled of poplar trees and sea).

Our city of workers and ugly middle-men,
tear-jerking market beggars
they cleared
the autumn fog
with their shouts.

We got to soak in the rain
with strangers
on tram stops,
old proletarian quirks, subway cars,
we got to soak in the rain
on cars
loaded with the unemployed
like shops with cartridges.

* * *

And now we speak of those who took away our cities,
our cities
dying off like house pets,

And now we speak of those who took
our keys
(the keys we used to open the doors of the hospitals,
and walk between light
and dark of the morning pharmacies)
where every morning
the sun
was being set aflame
with all the little pills and painkillers this earth.

* * *

Who came to power in our cities?

Who are these
that decide
to break the hearts of our houses and let out their warm raspberry blood?

Their politics
is glass splinters which they scatter under their feet,
and make us
follow them.

Now they come
together in their black suits, looking like chimney-sweepers
who have come
to power.

Their politics is ropes instead of ties
on their necks,
firm ropes good for hanging them on when they exit the game.

And now they don’t know where to begin.




“A city where she ended up hiding…”


A city where she ended up hiding
a city on fire with flags, built under snowed-up passes,
hunters chase wild fowl out of protestant churches,
blue stars fall into a lake
killing slow-moving fish.
These streets where funambulists hover,
how they balance in school
windows, arousing joy,
how they dodge lake gulls,
that snatch from her hands
weightless potato chips made of gold.
There, where we used to live together once,
we had no time for peace and meditation.
We slashed ourselves on the sharp cane of night,
dropped our clothes like ballast into the black elevator shaft
in order to hover in the air a little longer,
we hated, didn’t forgive,
didn’t accept, didn’t trust,
and lived the best days
of our lives in anger.
But this city where she ended up hiding
gently touches her hand
and opens its warehouses and storages rooms.
These ports, the destination of the Senegalese
who arrive in cargo holds,
the black meat of their hearts,
the ivory bone of their eyes,
these cellars packed with cheese,
cheery protestant cities,
where one can wait through the Last Judgment,
for local lawyers are excellent
and walls unassailable.
Yet there, where the two of us used
to warm ourselves in the kitchens
by the blue sources of fire, there isn’t a single
trace of us left. Time, an old funambulist,
fell down a hundred times and got back up a hundred times,
with broken collarbones and iron teeth,
time doesn’t care which direction to run,
it licks the wounds, and returns to dancing with seagulls.
But the city where she managed to hide in –
how bright are its shirts and dresses,
how smooth the skin of pilots
and Chinese students.
And this fresh mountain air,
like the taste of lips after
exhausting kissing.
She forgot nothing in the place she left.
Not a single voice, not a single curse.
Life is a jolly tug of war
with angels on one side
and lawyers on the other.
Lawyers outnumber
but their services are more costly.

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