You are currently viewing who came to power in our cities?
A City on a Rock, style of Goya, 19th century.

Language: Ukrainian
Poet: Serhiy Zhadan
Translator: Valzhyna Mort
Region: Ukraine

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who came to power in our cities?

From Serhiy Zhadan’s “Stones,” translated from Ukrainian by Valzhyna Mort

Serhiy Zhadan is a leading Ukrainian poet and writer. His books have been translated into more than a dozen languages. He has 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), and the BBC Ukrainian Book of the Year award in 2006, 2010, and 2014. He lives in Kharkiv. 

VALZHYNA MORT was born in Minsk, Belarus. She is the author of the poetry collections Factory of TearsCollected Body (both from Copper Canyon Press), and Music for the Dead and Resurrected (FSG), which was shortlisted for the International Griffin Prize and named one of the best poetry book of 2020 by The New York Times. Mort is a recipient of an NEA Literature Fellowship (for translation), as well as fellowships from the American Academy in Rome and the Lannan Foundation. Her work has been honored with the Bess Hokin Prize from Poetry, the Glenna Luschei Prairie Schooner Award, and was shortlisted for the Forward Prize. She teaches at Cornell University and writes in English and Belarusian.

from “Stones”

We speak of the cities we lived in—
cities that went into night
like ships into the winter sea,

we speak of the cities that suddenly lost their ability to resist—
in front of our eyes,
like a circus show where every acrobat dies,
and so does each laughing clown; enchanted,
you watch,
never turning away (and inconspicuously
on the circus set
you grow up).

***
Now we remember: janitors and the night-sellers of bread,
gray, like wrapping paper,
burglars,
taxi drivers with klaxons instead of hearts,
children who grew up
among the old furniture
(furniture smelled of poplar trees and sea).

Our city of workers and ugly middle-men,
tear-jerking market beggars
who cleared the autumn fog
with their shouts.

We got to soak in the rain
with strangers
on tram stops,
old proletarian quirks, subway cars,
we got to soak in the rain
on cars
loaded with the unemployed
like shops with cartridges.

***
And now we speak of those who took away our cities,
our cities
dying off like house pets,

And now we speak of those who took
our keys
(the keys we used to open the doors of hospitals,
and walk between light
and dark of the morning pharmacies)
where every morning
the sun
was being set aflame
with all the little pills and painkillers this earth.

***
Who came to power in our cities?

Who are these
clowns
that decide
to break the hearts of our houses and let out their warm raspberry blood?

Their politics
is glass splinters which they scatter under their feet,
and make us
follow them.

Now they come
together in their black suits, looking like chimney-sweepers
who have come
to power.

Their politics is ropes instead of ties on their necks,
firm ropes good for hanging them on when they exit the game.

But they don’t know where to begin.

This poem was originally published on Poetry International’s website and has been republished on our website with permission from the translator.