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Poetry

23rd August 2022

Poetry

3 minutes read

Iryna Shuvalova

To Write About War

translated by Nina Murray

23rd August 2022

3 minutes read

0.

a poet is good for nothing

a poet is good for nothing

a poet is good for nothing

 

someone go find him

a spade

a shovel

something to dig with

 

send him

to make a trench

or something

1.

there is no language that could possibly hold all of this

to write about war is to swallow

barbed wire inch by inch

slowly

 

to wrap your bare arms

and legs

around an antitank hedgehog

when you are asleep

 

to screw metal words

into the crushed bones of the morning

one

after another

 

to shell the bean pods of your words

open like bullet casings

to shake loose

death black lentils

pain peas of lead

 

to drink from puddles

first the deafening rumble

then the thick scarlet silence

2.

you thrust that language of yours everywhere

like a dirty finger into a wound

to convince yourself

to testify

 

the way a broken carafe testifies

to the existence of water

a broken radio witnesses

the mystery of electromagnetism

 

the reality boils over

red milk

overflows

leaves a dark stain on the stove

 

the empty pot of the poet’s mouth

sputters and pops

helpless

grows all black inside

3.

language here reaches its limit beyond which it is

a scream a gulp a rattle a croak a squeak

bones picked white by the birds

the scaffolding around

the bombed-out theater’s walls

 

look language stands as empty

as a house

from which everyone had been

taken outside

and shot

 

look my words are as nimble

as a pair of crutches

walking on their own

 

look

they dance too

4.

say what you will

scream all you want

poet

 

death can’t hear you

either way

 

made deaf in both ears by the blasts

made blind in both eyes by the shrapnel

she gropes through the city

 

like homer’s cyclops

she gropes each one us

with her cold

moist fingers

 

her large tired body

smells of metal and fire

 

and each of us

is before her

a nobody

5.

a poet

is a graduate

of the high school of powerlessness

who failed to learn

a single lesson

 

we feel our rickety boats

sinking deeper and deeper

under each

new load of silence

 

we stand atop

and swing language

as if it were a staff

 

as if we could hope

to part this sea of despair

 

and walk its bottom

like solid ground

 

to the far shore

of war

6.

lord you know it well

a poet’s tongue is only good for two things

 

to sing of death

and of victory

 

so grant us our lord

tongues of iron

 

that we might lick clean

these roads

this asphalt

 

lick them free of all trace of our foes

lick them clean of all splattered blood

 

leaving untouched

only that one little crack

where a thick

green stem

stubbornly pushes upward

written by

Iryna Shuvalova

More about the author

Issue 03

Faith

More about this issue

translated by

Nina Murray

More about the translator

MORE FROM THE AUTHOR