23rd August 2022


3 minutes read

Iryna Shuvalova

To Write About War

translated by Nina Murray

23rd August 2022

3 minutes read


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


there is no language that could possibly hold all of this

to write about war is to swallow

barbed wire inch by inch



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


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


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


leaves a dark stain on the stove


the empty pot of the poet’s mouth

sputters and pops


grows all black inside


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



they dance too


say what you will

scream all you want



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


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


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


More about this issue

translated by

Nina Murray

More about the translator


To Write About War by Iryna Shuvalova
In this long poem by Ukrainian poet Iryna Shuvalova, language is found empty and ineffective, and the poet still more powerless than before.