Eccentric Days of Hope and Sorrow – 2021

Natalka Bilotserkivets, translated from the Ukrainian

by Ali Kinsella and Dzvinia Orlowsky

Wolf Wine Bar

Two years ago, maybe even two and a half,
life hadn’t yet seemed so helpless:
chestnuts didn’t choke on rusty blood,
floods didn’t reach the windows of the buildings
with the Wolf wine bar and Dove coffee shop
and the small theater under the large lanterns.

Two years ago, maybe even two and a half,
we didn’t have such severe snows and frosts:
water didn’t freeze in the boilers and pipes,
flutes never froze to lips or fingers,
the snow didn’t stick to legs in thin stockings,
ice didn’t appear on carpets in hotels.

And the forest fires, tsunamis with women’s names,
blood and wine on dead legs in thin stockings,
carpets covered with the wreckage of aircraft.

Let them be. There’s still time for the final sign:
a time when wolves run, doves fly,
and, having left behind their foundations, pulling out their roots,
the Wolf wine bar and Dove coffee shop will disappear,
the lanterns, chestnuts, hotel, and theater.


—On the banks of the eternal river.
     Lina Kostenko, Ukrainiain poet and writer, b. 1930

It’s the last month of a long winter
we’ll survive. After all, we were at fault
for something. From the darkness,
a knife emerges like the moon. A guitar
strums about corpses and forests
while our voices endure on cassettes.

Some owe less—others more.
Some more—others, less. Out of our hands
years crawl like worms. Yet,
there’s punishment for everything.

Unfortunate earth of enslaved dreams,
of nasty words, decapitations,
of skin burned with acid!
Your nightingale tongue ripped out
and only Russian curses, a whistle, a drunken cry
heard from under scarlet robes.

My princess, wife of fish and frogs!
Your every son—a scoundrel or a slave!
Who to give oneself to and whom to love?
On the banks of the eternal river—
accountants, majors, their wives,
their children sent off to foreign schools.

What will grow from the scattered grain?
We had to see the naked field.
Though some will get to see the harvest,
the sickle will go the way of the foe.
They’ll beat with flails on the threshing floor.
On an embroidered cloth our bread will lie
like a severed head.


The air is as still and hot
as my body. Arched like a bridge
over a river. It’s so quiet—the nightingales
must be drinking their own black alcohol.

No sounds. Only color and shades
spread out across the water.
Face up—that’s how it was with me.
Evenings as glorious as spirits!

There are memory catastrophes.
They collapse into signs, halftones, details
of blocks, construction of rail,
inflows of blood, formulas for love.

I don’t remember the color of eyes,
but their expression’s still here—
when a devastating pulse of extreme temperature
drops from above onto the bridge.

We’ll Not Die in Paris

I will die in Paris on Thursday evening.

César Vallejo

You forget the lines smells colors and sounds
sight weakens       hearing fades       simple pleasures pass
you lift your face and hands toward your soul
but to high and unreachable summits it soars

what remains is only the depot       the last stop
the gray foam of goodbyes lathers and swells
already it washes over my naked palms
its awful sweet warmth seeps into my mouth
love alone remains though better off gone

in a provincial bed I cried till exhausted
through the window       a scraggly rose-colored lilac spied
the train moved on       spent lovers stared
at the dirty shelf heaving beneath your flesh
outside a depot’s spring passed       grew quiet

we’ll not die in Paris       I know now for sure
but in a sweat and tear-stained provincial bed
no one will serve us our cognac       I know
we won’t be saved by kisses
under the Pont Mirabeau murky circles won’t fade

too bitter we cried       abused nature
we loved too fiercely
                        our lovers shamed
too many poems we wrote
                        disregarding poets
they’ll not let us die in Paris
and the alluring water
                        under the Pont Mirabeau
will be encircled with barricades

Translated by Dzvinia Orlowsky