Three Poems by Serhiy Zhadan

[She’s fifteen, sells flowers at the train station]

She’s fifteen, sells flowers at the train station.
Sun and berries sweeten the oxygen beyond the mines.
Trains stop for a moment, move further on.
Soldiers go to the East, soldiers go to the West.

Nobody stays in her city.
Nobody wants to take her with them.
She thinks, standing in the morning at her spot,
even this territory, it turns out, may be desirable, dear.

It turns out, you don’t want to leave it for a long time,
in fact, you want to hold on to it for dear life,
it turns out, this old train station and an empty
summer panorama are enough for love.

Nobody gives her a good reason for this.
Nobody brings flowers to her older brother’s grave.
In a dream, you hear that motherland forms in darkness,
like the spine of a teenager living in a boarding house.

Light and darkness are formed, take shape together.
Summer sun flows into winter.
Everything that happens today, to everyone, is called time.
The main thing is understanding that all this happens to them.

Her memory is being formed, consolation formed.
Everyone she knows was born in this city.
At night she recalls everyone who left this place.
When there is no one left to remember, she falls asleep.

[To know that you still lie there beyond the scorched mountain]

To know that you still lie there beyond the scorched mountain,
even now easily reached by the road, zigzagged, old, the city
where I grew up, a life that seemed to be a game.

But who will let me reach your limits now?
Who will watch me from your windows?
What joy is there in returning to the city of the dead, what’s the point?

Betrayed by you, cast out past your outskirts,
cut off from your tenements and boulevards.
Your people wear their holiday clothes,
the ground shudders from strikes.

But you still don’t see the great shadow
that will cover your streets and squares,
and I stand beyond the scorched mountain, under the rays of the sun,
and I lament you, my city—hateful, dearest.

Maybe I’m not the only one who laments, maybe.

I don’t have a home anymore, I have only a memory.
But when they fire from your blocks, damn it, how they shoot.
How well they sleep now, in my house,
in the city where all names are familiar, all addresses known.

When you, god, look into a mirror,
what do you see in your image?
Woe unto you, the city forgotten by all.

Woe unto your women who give birth in a time of pogrom.
The city of betrayal, the city of sorrow, the city of poison.
Woe unto all who won’t come back to their homes.

Silent evenings in July.
Golden stars among the dense leaves.
To know that black rain will flood your backyard.
To know that it won’t pass over anyone.

[Dance, carpenter, until the sun stands]

Dance, carpenter, until the sun stands
above the largest bridge god created.
Dance, Homer already described everything.
The city was up all night like a love-struck teenager;
a stranger steps onto the bridge.
Vendors carry red roosters in black bags to slaughter.
Do you remember the words from that song,
carpenter, flowing from a morning window?
Do you remember how you ran away from school,
how you walked down a sandy bank?
She’s the only one who loves you, carpenter,
in the whole world, the only one.
At night, her street smells like bread and garlic, like a mother’s heart.
Dance in the middle of this world
that spins tirelessly and aimlessly.
A boy leaves his parents’ home
like a morning sun escaping darkness.
Everyone, carpenter, has a mark, the mark of love and solitude.
When your son is born, he’ll explain why.
And long nights of tenderness, when you called her by name,
called as if you’re inventing a language for the deaf.
Now you sing this song like it’s only yours,
that it was you who found her in one of your books.
And dancing takes away your breath and you’re sweating.
And the smell of seawater weaves through the air like a stream of blood.
And the whole world may fit on this square on a Saturday morning.
And when your son is born—you’ll bring him here too.
Dance, carpenter, vendors shout, dance, the butchers get excited.
Someone’s weaving this world like a basket from green vine.
You remember the song all dictionaries started from.
She’s the only one who loves you, whoever your son may be.
Everything we know how to do, everything we know, everything we love.
everything you’re afraid of, carpenter, everything you wanted.
The sun beats its wings like a beheaded rooster,
it welcomes this strange world, the fairest of all worlds.


Serhiy Zhadan

Serhiy Zhadan is a Ukrainian poet, essayist, and translator. English translations of his work include the prose works Depeche Mode, Voroshilovgrad, and Mesopotamia (which also features poetry). His poetry has appeared in many journals, including The Common, Virginia Quarterly Review, Poetry International, and Asymptote, and his books have been translated into more than a dozen languages. He received the 2015 Angelus Central European Literary Award (Poland), the 2014 Jan Michalski Prize for Literature (Switzerland), the 2009 Joseph Conrad-Korzeniowski Literary Award (Ukraine), the 2006 Hubert Burda Prize for young Eastern European poets (Austria), and the BBC Ukrainian Book of the Year award in 2006, 2010, and 2014. He lives in Kharkiv.

John Hennessy and Ostap Kin

John Hennessy is the author of two collections, Coney Island Pilgrims and Bridge and Tunnel, and his poems have appeared in The Believer, Best American Poetry, Harvard Review, The Huffington Post, Jacket, The New Republic, Poetry, Poetry Northwest, The Poetry Review (UK), RaedLeaf (India), Poetry Ireland Review, and The Yale Review. Hennessy is the poetry editor of The Common and teaches at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst.


Ostap Kin is the editor of New York Elegies: Ukrainian Poems on the City, and co-translator of the collection  Songs for a Dead Rooster (with Vitaly Chernetsky) by Yuri Andrukhovych and the chapbook The Maidan After Hours (with Ali Kinsella) by Vasyl Lozynsky. His translations have appeared in Modern Poetry in TranslationPoetry InternationalThe Common, Hawai'i ReviewSpringhouse JournalOhio EditSt. Petersburg Review, and

Copyright (c) Serhiy Zhadan, 2016, 2018. English translation copyright (c) John Hennessy and Ostap Kin, 2019.