Summer night Kiev blues

I was born in Kiev, Ukraine,
I was young and running wild -
“Be a darling,” said the raven,
“Keep my beak inside your heart.”
I was born in Kiev, Ukraine,
Beak in heart and heart in throat,
Acid bubbling in the tear ducts,
Muscle in a Gordian knot.
I was born in Kiev, Ukraine -
Soldiers shivered in the ground
As the god of tits and wine
Put my fire out with his tongue.
I was born in Kiev, Ukraine -
I am friends with rock and rye,
Candle flame and worm and lichen,
And the torture spikes of stars.
I was born in Kiev, Ukraine,
I have seen the mirror crack,
I have seen the flaming sword
Buried in a templar’s back.
I was born in Kiev, Ukraine,
I have knelt for the Red Sun,
Drank the moonlight from the river ,
Stroked a hussar’s shiny gun.
I was born in Kiev, Ukraine,
In its hollow bones are caves,
In the caves the saints are sleeping,
In the saints the wormholes wait.
I was born in Kiev, Ukraine -
Thank you, physics, thank you, fate,
Thank you, lindens, thank you, chestnuts,
Thank you, cemetery gate.

I was born in Kiev, Ukraine -
The fault lines in my face
Cry tears of happiness,
Cry tears of happiness.

With thanks to Solomia and the musicians who play at the Buena Vista Bar in downtown Kiev on Thursdays

Moonlight night on the Dnepr. Arkhip Kuindzhi.

Moonlit night on the Dnepr. Arkhip Kuindzhi.

Chyorny Dnepr: Mermaid Song

God, I must be getting older,
A sickly pigeon on my shoulder
Weeps diuretics from one round eye.
God, I must be getting weaker,
The teeth in my head are getting softer,
The teeth in my head crumble to chalk.
I pull them out of my mouth,
And draw your picture on the sidewalk:
With a bigger dick than I remember,
With kinder eyes than I remember,
If history’s to be forgotten,
No point in sticking to the facts.
God, my nails are like quartz,
Gnawing deep into my weeping skin.
God, my thoughts are like black water,
Licking at a thinning dam.
In a billion years this gut and bones,
The fragile pelvis you briefly made your home,
Will be fuel in a lantern
Lighting the way of a stranger’s progress
On a black shore under rearranged stars,
And that is the only immortality you and I may have.

This one’s from a new play of mine. Possibly the last play ever (but I always say that, don’t I? I am always having horrendous break-ups with the theater, only to come back again). A drunk mermaid stumbles out of the water and sings this on the beach of the Dnepr River in Ukraine. The play is set a few months before Euromaidan —> Yanukovych’s toppling —> Annexation of Crimea —-> Civil war in the East.

The lieutenant in you

Growing older becomes repetitive. It would be great to break up the monotony of cells drying out like graying laundry on the line.

But nature is its own government, recycling soldiers into pulp. Inviolate, the only thing less compromising being the phantom limb of conscience (oh God, don’t get me started on how that thing feels, like sticky tape gone weak and fuzzy with the years).

Small comfort, then, that the bureaucracy is uncomplicated, the only law being death. The baby chick laid to rest in the proteins of its own egg and shiny ant confetti on the sidewalk – death’s bannermen marching on the child.

Continue reading

Anna Arutunyan does a liberal translation of Alexander Vvedensky

This is an excerpt from the “Guest on a Horse” poem:

Sleek and simple was the stallion
As transparent as a stream.
Long of mare and hurried temper,
Said that he would like some cream.
“I’m the chairman of this meeting!
Come to join you and parley.
Teach me what to do, Creator!”
God replied to him, “Okay.”
Then the stallion took a stand
And I looked into his hand.
He wasn’t frightening!
And I realized then, I sinned.
God had taken from me matter:
Body, consciousness and will.
Everything came back to me.
In the boiling pot was winter;
In the stream a prison’s chill.
In the flower there was sickness.
In the june bug – strife, discord.
None of it made sense to me.
Could it be you’re absent, God?
#Misfortune

If you read more about who Vvedensky was – and how he ended up – the goosebumps will be more plentiful.

Once again, this is a very liberal translation, but that’s precisely why I like it.

I often wonder where a mind like Vvedensky’s goes after death. You can imagine it to be a kind of mind that doesn’t entirely leave the landscape. I was once walking back from a wedding on a summer night in the Middle of Nowhere, Vladimir region, Russia, and as the tall grass swayed in the breeze on either side of the path, someone said, “The grass is full of dead poets” – and it was the truest thing I’d ever heard about that place.

gena in the grass

70 years ago

The first executions began at Babi Yar in Kiev, Ukraine. They began on September 27, to be exact. The first victims were patients at the local psychiatric hospital. They were murdered by Nazi occupiers together with local collaborators. Then the city’s Jewish population was taken there. They were told that they were being “resettled.” And you can guess what happened next.

Babi Yar is the final resting place of many, many people – mostly civilian Jews, as well as Soviet POWs, Ukrainian nationalists, Roma folks who were rounded up, etc. I am distantly related to some of the people who were murdered there, as a lot of Kievans are.

My first play featured an incident at Babi Yar as it is today, but I couldn’t do justice to the setting.

Poet Evgeny Yevtushenko wrote of Babi Yar: “I am like a constant, soundless scream, over the buried thousands. I am every old man shot to death here. I am every child shot to death here.” At the time that Yevtushenko wrote these words, the Soviet powers were still steadfastly refusing to place a monument at Babi Yar.

All of that has changed. And a museum is likely to be built. I guess that justifies the “Good News” tag, maybe.