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Stanzas for Ukraine – 6

The Kalyna[1] Poetry Flute (Especially for Kalyna Language Press Limited[2]) by Myroslav Herasymovych, translated from the Ukrainian by Stephen Komarnyckyj

I looked at the news and thought. What did I think? – It’s unknown. Ah! I’ve remembered. – What? – What I thought about. – What did you think about? Without answering I turned my gaze to the light bulb. It was like a soap bubble under the ceiling. Empty as the thoughts of the fool. – Absolutely right. And praiseworthy. Including this praise. All is as if not in reality – going on the observation of light bulb I make this assumption entirely for the love of fantasy. Or more truly of words. Maybe so… Only I don’t know… – I will tell you everything, just blow, blow into me, – the voice of viburnum (kalyna) flute suddenly sounded. – The war will pass but the word can remain. It was only an attempt at a name, a meagre, deliberate possibility, extracted from the ceiling. Nevertheless. Having surprised myself, and without the slightest desire to be drawn into this dialogue, I look from the light bulb to Patron, the world famous dog-sapper, on the screen of TV news. The sapper came to see children in hospital. The theme on TV changes. Suddenly I remembered that dog. It was still March, a cold evening. The dog was standing in a puddle and barking incessantly then it bent its head, lapped the dirty water and continued barking. The artillery cannonade sounded in the north. It came to memory. I watched the news some more. For a long time. Then I sprang to my feet and went out of the casern. The night moves like slow, black smoke, like war. Trying to understand myself I start moving quickly to the parking area for decommissioned military vehicles. I invisibly slip the guard’s area of responsibility. I’m walking along the hangar. How am I? – Three days until misfortune – I whisperingly answer myself with an old Ukrainian proverb and keep walking, keep walking. The wall is collapsed, involuntarily revealing the shadowy figures of gigantic poplars around the corner. Giants on clay legs, defenceless and inopportune. Sphinxes without riddles. Cardboard boxes! Stop! – But. I tilted my head on the ground and listening, the dull thud of combat boots, I can hear how my ‘but’ beats in me. Like a fish hits its head against the ice, like Uma Thurman on the lid of her coffin. But. But even – and at last I begin to understand something – but even if there is nothing for people to remember me, the waves will be pushing me as foam on the shore for a long time yet, or, as this path snakes now I still can be running somehow in the darkness, or, from the bottle picked up and polished off by the tramp I’ll return to life for a moment. Just blow into me, blow! – The voice of the flute of poetry sounds. – The war will pass but the wo… My God, how many deaths every day. How many couldn’t manage to live long. How many tears into a pillow – the dead eat the living. This is a woman from news footage. The camera operator took a close up: her glasses are dirtied with cheap mascara, she blinks in shock, can’t believe… A girl who lost her arm and mother is stroking the sapper-dog. You, who look from above at the sky like an astronaut, if I have the right to ask: give strength to the deads to enter their dreams with words of consolation. I can’t think about anything, that’s the thing, and that’s what this blog is about, empty as a soap bubble. Sand crabs scurry in my head and there is nothing to strengthen the seriousness of this account. My boots goop in the dark. Here, nearby, on the path below and at the same time ominously distant. Putin the national hero and the hope of Russia, the embodiment of all the best features and the inspiration for the crimes to these spiritually undeveloped people. But You can look how it happened – the path to glory and victories became their road into a maw. Errors and surprises prepare to play a role long before defeat. These cutthroats went throughout their history succesfully and daringly but they went to meet a stronger opponent. Now they have to experience the sensation of the shaft of their proud tricolour in their own ass. The earth rotates the days pass – soon. Now it has no longer the least meaning either in concern for self-safety or out of a sense of compassion, civilization has not permitted us to be drowned in our own blood. Blood! Blood every day. The individual’s reaction dulls with significant losses of blood. That’s all! I’m recognising. It is coming – melancholy over me. That doesn’t need any words. The blog sharply rounds up the thought and enters the finals. Where am I walking? Where am I hurrying? To this wretched Soviet iron? Repulsive. I turn around suddenly and run back swiftly and become numb, embracing the silent giant.

Poems by Myroslav Herasymovych, translated from the Ukrainian by Stephen Komarnyckyj

Пам’яті героя

Та постать, в задумі зробивша три кроки, фактично це я.
В секторі світла бетонні блоки, стіна ангару і магія
Ракетної війни.
Зіниці в бійницях черепа – датчики руху – лопатять пустоту.
Свідомість чітка.
Блоки, стіна ангару, постать на посту.

Чим все було-мерехтіло все оніміло
Як черепок з розкопок.
Зробилося безіменне
Шо вода в калюжі.
Я стою я дивлюся
І стопкадр сектору
Починає дивитись на мене.
Світ це і є ти
Себе не пізнати.
Раптом майнула сова поміж нас
– Стій! Хто іде?!
– Час.

Методична залізна і грізна робота.
Українська військова машина
Переносить кордони Європи.
В глибині оборони під її капотом
Я дивлюся донизу в пітьму землі
Як у сон без зображення,
Як в думи німі,
Як в якесь головне і мовчазне питання,
І здогадуюсь раптом: це хвилина мовчання.
І я погляд повільно підводжу на небо
Південного сходу.

Герой – це таємниця життя
Розрубаний гордіїв вузол мозку
Ломака в палайці
Тріумф співчуття
Калатало дзвону
Дорога додому
Цеглина на педалі газу
Ридання жіночі до сказу
Шум верховіть

А ви далі живіть.
Герой це визволитель світу
Він нас робить людьми
І священною робить свободу.
Я дивлюсь в пітьму неба
Південного сходу.

In Memory of a Hero

That figure, who took three steps, thoughtful, is in fact me.
In the sector formed by the light — the concrete blocks, the hangar’s wall, the magic
Of a missile war.
The eye’s pupils in the loopholes of the skull — motion sensors — excavating the void.
Consciousness is precise.
The blocks, the hangar’s wall, the figure at a guard post.

What was-flickered with, everything — became numb with something
Like a shard from an excavation,
It became nameless
Like a water in a puddle.
I stand and look
And a still frame of the sector
Starts looking at me.
The world  is  just you,
Not  to know himself
An owl slipped  between us at  that moment.
– Halt! Who goes there?!
– Time.

The methodical, iron and formidable work.
A Ukrainian military vehicle
Shifts the borders of Europe.
In the depth of the protection under its hood
I look down into the darkness of the earth
As into a dream without image,
As in mute thoughts,
As in any fundamental and silent question,
And I guess suddenly: this is a moment of silence.
And slowly  I raise my gaze to the sky
In the Southeast.

A hero is the secret of life
The hewed Gordian knot of the brain
A branch — in the fire
The triumph of empathy
A bell  tongue
The Way Home
A brick on a gas pedal
Women’s weeping to insanity
The noise of the tree’s tops
And you live on.
A hero is a liberator of the world
He makes us human
And freedom sacred.
I look into the darkness of the sky
In the Southeast.


Сніг упав і дивиться у пусте небо
Я чешу по куриво тинами попід
Ірпінь попереду своїм жабром
Ловить думки моєї хід.

Але швидко йому таємниця відкриється
Як з оцих я зроблю з парканів оцих милиці
Як зберу всіх собак і орлів з лісу
І ми підем вперед всі, прорвавши завісу.

The snow has fallen and looks into sky’s emptiness 
I rush beneath the fences for smoking
Irpin, ahead of me, with its gill.
Catches the way of my thinking.

But soon the secret will be revealed to it,
How I make crutches out of these, these fence palings,
How I gather all the dogs and eagles from the forest
And we will advance before all, break through the veil.


Відстань їсть деталі, як зерно курка.
В треї монітора фантазії маршрутка.
І хоч би я не розплющував їх і їхав далі –
Ти одна лиш хазяйка моєї хазяйки.

Як солдат про дівчину – я про тебе завжди.
Чи є якась біда від цієї біди?
Я сідаю в метро, як на гілку гава.
Хтось сідає зліва, сідають справа.

Я ніби сплю, а станції лише сняться.
Тому, хто справа, виходити – піднявся.
Так, це була ти і можна тепер додому,
Де я, може, й зараз, це ж мені невідомо.

Тому що ти лиш хазяйка моєї хазяйки.

The distance eats details like a chicken pecks seed
In the tray of the screen of fantasies on the bus
And although I do not open them I go further
You alone are the mistress of my mistress.

As a soldier talks about his girl I talk about you always
Is there a misfortune from this misfortune?
I sit on the metro, a hooded crow on a branch
And someone sits to my left, to my right.

It’s as if I sleep and dream the stations.
Someone to the right gets up to alight.
Yes this was you, maybe now going home
Where I am now is unknown perhaps,

Because you are the mistress of my mistress.


Stanzas for Ukraine: Let’s Write with Ukrainian Authors

In the manner borrowed from the Poetry School’s ‘Transreading’ practice, this blog series invites us to write in conversation with Ukrainian authors. Our close readings and our new texts are also gestures of our support and appreciation. As writers, we too can learn from our Ukrainian colleagues and their international translators.

‘the distance eats details like a chicken pecks seed’

Invitation to write by Elżbieta Wójcik-Leese

Myroslav Herasymovych’s third poem opens with this observation (in Steve Komarnyckyj’s English): ‘The distance eats details like a chicken pecks seed/ In the tray of the screen of fantasies on the bus.’ We all know the feeling, even if scenarios may differ. Let’s place ourselves or the speakers of our texts away from somebody or something. How big is this distance and how big is its hunger? How many details has the distance (physical, emotional, ideological, etc.) already eaten? Does Herasymovych’s simile still do its hunger justice? If it’s no longer a chicken pecking seeds, what or who is it now? Has its eating become devouring or has it turned into nibbling? What details are still left at the end of the distance’s meal?

Additional invitation to write: ‘not so false friends’

This poetry presentation shows Herasymovych’s poems in Ukrainian. Is there any word you have spotted in the Ukrainian originals that attracts your attention? Perhaps because it reminds you (visually, aurally) of a word in your home language? Focus on this linguistic ‘false friend’ to shorten the distance between the two (or more) modes of knowing and expressing. Contemplate the details this word restores.

You’re always welcome to invent your own writing games in response to the presented poems. Share your texts with our writing community here.

The five previous invitations to write can be found here.

Invitation to Donate

This project aims to support refugees displaced by the conflict through raising funds for the World Central Kitchen. Please consider donating via their site here.


Myroslav Herasymovych was born in 1967 in the USSR, an ethnic Ukrainian. At a very young age, inspired by his close surroundings and life circumstances, he began to perceive his emotions and then reflections and fantasies as an independent process with its own internal logic. The deeply private nature of creativity in a totalitarian context determined many things. Kyiv University, like-minded people, classical art commune, author’s group, screenwriting, absolute rejection by the domestic professional environment. The creative process continues successfully. With the beginning of the war, he became a volunteer in the Armed Forces of Ukraine.

Poetry School is proud to have partnered with tutors Steve Komarnyckyj and Elżbieta Wójcik-Leese, and PEN International’s Judyth Hill to publish Stanzas for Ukraine.

Every fortnight we publish a blog written by some of the most significant contemporary Ukrainian poets, who will reflect upon the more than 300 years of historical conflict their country has endured, the on-going struggle, and highlight poems and voices from the past and present. This will launch a new strand of Poetry School work, giving voice to those globally who are being silenced and providing a platform for those suffering forced migration. Future strands will include Syria, Afghanistan, Somalia, and more.

[1]   The title alludes to a Ukrainian song and folk tale about a Kalyna Sopilka, a Ukrainian woodwind instrument: the Kalyna, or Viburnum in English is a plant with red berries and a Ukrainian national symbol.

[2]    Myroslav was inspired by the press I run.

One Comment

  • Jane Macdonald

    Greetings to Myroslav Herasymovych and the translator Stephen Komarnyckyj:

    Reading your words, seeing the steps you take on that nighttime path, seeing the poplars at night. Poplars grow by the great lake here, an inland sea they call it. Last night was fresh and a cool breeze off the water. The poplars held the sun’s last rays in their highest branches. You know how poplars whisper to the air, in a group of whispers. Nothing is as tall as the poplars around here. I see the trees in the news of Ukraine – in the cities, between apartment blocks blown apart, in the countryside along roads occupied and emptied. In February when this latest war started, they were leafless on the news and soon to be in leaf, god willing or for some other reason they would transform as they always anyway do. Your bottle washed up, to here, and I opened it, I read what you wrote, your words in this bottle.

    from Jane Macdonald, beside Lake Ontario

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