by Natalka Bilotserkivets, 1987

A soft sob at midnight. Still asleep you can't remember where, in what corner
of the suddenly empty room.
Was it there, where your bed stood when you were a child?
Where the shadows of tiny breasts first
appeared over ribs -- during childhood,
cooing dark skeins of trembling
syllables, fears and cries?...
You were born
far away from an airport or even a railroad!

You wake again, and again you're in the building where you lived
with your parents when you were small, but today
strangers live there, and they've let
both of you spend the night in your old room, and even
served you tea -- a different kind, in a different cup,
not the white one with blue dots -- and your lips
find traces of someone else's tentative sips
drank from my cup?

Who flies at night across the distant sky?
Is it that helicopter again with the cement and the boron carbide?


Oh, and you must grasp at straws
endlessly --
warm memories, of milk, of tears,
of mother's kindness, of laughter, and of the sound
of bare feet in the garden
you were born
before nuclear power plants or dead rivers,
or trains crammed with children  -- what straws
will they grasp in the new century?...

The helicopter
drops its load, you hear no more,
finally near dawn you fall into a sleep as deep as a well.


So, that's how we spent that terrifying spring,
with its burning sun and radiant leaves --
in the wasteland of abundance created by our artificially-fertile world
whose flower hides the initial nudge towards a new mutation --
maybe, a new humanity will arise out of this --
after us --
as we ourselves arose out of the ravaged cells
of dead salamanders.

So, that's how we spent that spring --
perpetually sick
school children, with milk still on the lips,
Poets, who don't know pain,
generations, oblivious --
we, passive, inert -- others
put out the flames
in the reactor's burning heart;
we, dressed in white lab coats with dosimeters in our hands;
in military epaulets, in soldier's uniforms;
young pregnant women and girls
with children that will never be born
victims and rescuers in the burning heart of Europe.


A soft sob at midnight. You sit up and look around,
like a frightened animal,
the walls of the white room,
you run your hand over them nervously on both sides -- no one,
only one corner of the crumpled pillow -- still warm
from someone's hair --
that was just there and flew,
as you slept,
into the sky, towards the pale, fair constellations
(not for the first time -- leaving you alone)
... hair
so recently beloved, and shoulders, sweet to cry on,
sailed past the window and dissolved into the milk-white haze.

You didn't even hear
You hadn't heard for a long time
the every day indifference
to simple things that don't scream, to gestures, smiles, movements,
to folded clothes, and wool heavy with rain,
to the last straws yielding arms and thighs provide--
to all, that had become a habit
an obligation, soon
a mistake, a regret, and finally  -- nothing;

but now,
in this hemorrhage of nervousness and pain
a long-forgotten love flashes by, like the voice of
Berenice from her constellation at dawn.


The sounds of the helicopters in the morning mist,
cut through the
beautiful life of this May --
above the buildings of the city, above the bridges, above the green
meadow dreams. Distant caverns
echo their death-bearing hum.

... Who has the right to conduct experiments
with human beings?
Scientific speculators,
or bureaucrats safe in their offices, with awards and medals,
foreign and local crooks or big talkers --
our poisoned youth rises against them,
a gentle wind stirs the hair of the young and the old
and the polluted sleeping forests --
the graying hair
of our land at Europe's breast.


The cup rings softly with the cooled tea
on the pale window sill this evening;
and fate falls on your shoulders
as a soft weight --
you stand distant and pure,
a child again, the loved one again,
and again
the hands of the mother, or maybe --  a sister, or maybe -- someone else's hands,
maybe, the hands of the curtain in the lit window
settle on your shoulders bodiless;

And past the window, past the garden, in the grass
you see salamanders free as wild horses; and the most attractive one
directs its immovable reflective eye --
nature's dark eye, with its pulsating seductive call, towards you...


translated from the Ukrainian
by Virlana Tkacz & Wanda Phipps


bil-may.doc 4/26/91