by Oleh Lysheha, 2002

When did they sow this grass -- yesterday? today? –
Look – it’s coming up already..
I wonder if my millet will sprout? –
I scattered the seeds somewhere here, beneath the window..
The cherry tree bends low..
Behind it -- a grove of young ash trees,
A little further stand tall elms,
Beyond them the wall..
I should go get something for lunch –
Maybe some fish or eggs..
I walk out of the monastery,
The workers are finishing the work on the wall..
They are covering the roof above it with shingles,
That shine in the sun
Even brighter than the polished copper domes
Of the Church of All Saint’s .. a softer sheen
Like barley straw..
On one side a girl is whitewashing it.
Alone.. probably a student..
Or maybe she is doing penance for some sin..
Her faded T-shirt has dark wet stains
And hangs on her narrow shoulders..
She constantly brushes the hair away from her eyes with her left hand..
And, her shoulders seem to shudder..
But her paint splattered hand
Never seems to quite reach the wall..
Walk up to her.. help her somehow..
There isn’t much left to do.. I wouldn’t mind..
I would just stand there and paint and paint
Till I died,
If only someone would bring me some soup..
I could live here, under these elms..
The wall is being whitewashed for them..
Who else?.. With her in the forefront
The trees seem denser, and taller..
Across the road..
People crowd around.. waiting for fresh peaches..
I get in line behind a young woman..
She holds a woven basket under her arm,
With some clothes in it..
The wind lifts the scarf around her neck..
How pale..
Have anyone’s lips ever touched her?..
“You probably walked far to get to the monastery..
But even you are tempted
By fresh peaches.. aren’t you afraid of them?..”
She moves her neck anxiously,
And suddenly the wall glows white behind her..
No.. I won’t stand in this line.. those peaches are probably still green..”
I’ll step inside the store..
The herring looks rusty..
The ribs are crusted with salt,
The meat separated from the bones..
Sometimes you want something..
From the very bottom of the barrel.. Nothing, but brine..
Back down the monastery alley..
Under the acacias there is a clay path
With signs of earthworms after the rains..
I stand there, and watch an old white dove
Drink from a puddle..
He drinks and drinks without stopping.. like a cow..
Then he steps into the puddle up to his chest to bathe..
And he flies up – to the very top
Of the Church of Our Savior..
Maybe, I should go inside?..
Behind the cast iron gate..
Juicy pale apples still hang..
Wild irises
Bloom light lavender and yellow..
Along the brick path,
I’ve been here recently..
Fishermen pull nets into their boat,
Their faces, the boat, and the entire sky
Are covered with fine hatchet marks,
As if they had been caught in a dark rain..
A dark iron rain.. their great wide-open eyes
Seem lost but still shine..
And a cloud, another, greater net,
Has caught both them and their sky..
How horrible.. all cut up by the hatchet,
Streaming with blood, blinded,
They throw the torn sweeping net
Into the stormy sea again and again.. and hope..
Why did I walk in here..
The workers are having lunch –
I guess they don’t climb down,
But sit on their wooden scaffolding
Drinking and eat.. those who don’t drink,
Lie on the boards
Further in, playing cards..
I don’t see the girl among them..
But the bottom section of the wall isn’t finished..
Maybe she will return or, maybe not..
Who will finish it then?..
What about you..
I have my own penance..
Hunched over by the heat, hungry,
I make it to the monastery’s office..
I grope my way down the long corridor..
Lined with steel lockers, so that I wouldn’t fall..
Every day the monastery feels
More and more like a bunker.. my steps
Echo like in a prison..
I reach my cell
And plop down on a stool..
Time for us to have lunch..
I pull what I had brought from home out of the bag:
A little bread, oil..
Pry open the can with a knife
And put it on the table:
There is a bright label on the golden can –
Inside some sardines
Lay in a red wine sauce..
It was time to call Ivan..
But he is already on his way..
I recognize his footsteps from far away,
He drags his injured leg,
And the lockers shake
As he walks through the dark niches..
He is the last key master of the monastery..
We sit in silence, both thinking,
How can we enhance
The stale bread with a little something..
And as I silently raise my head,
To lick the tomato from the spoon,
I suddenly feel that behind him
Someone is watching us through the window..
There is something dark behind the glass..
Then I see the beak..
So we interrupt our lunch,
Put on our dark work robes
And run outside into the blinding sun
In which thousands of people around the world stand naked,
And in our window,
On the hot white wall
On the narrow metal window frame
A raven hunches over..
Chest pressed against the glass..
Squashed into it as if the sky had fallen..
Or maybe he just can’t fly any further,
He surrenders without a fight,
I tightly grasp the hard breast,
Sharp like a blade, he is nothing but a handful of dry feathers..
So what now, you loner of the forest, –
Who should be holding whom?
Would you have pecked at my bones, still warm,
With your bearded beak,
And hid one for a meal,
When the sun went down –
Only later to push it out of the nest in the wind and rain?..
We carry him inside
And place him on the floor --
He stretches and freezes..
He has no meat on him,
And smells of old used up feathers..
I kneel down to open his beak..
It is awkward; I have to kneel on one knee
And see his inflamed throat
With a little saliva on the sides..
His tongue is covered with stale froth..
Opaque as the residue
That settles on the ground in early spring
When the snow melts,
Porous and wilted..
A dried out throat..
That can only be healed with fresh blood..
But by evening he has come to life,
And Ivan lets him out that night..

I remember it as if it were today..
Ivan’s wife died towards the morning..
And maybe a week after that
We set out for the Wilderness Reserve,
He leads me through the pine forest,
Over the paths she liked to walk..
The ravines are covered with raspberries..
We sit resting on a fallen pine..
Then stand and walk on,
Leaning on our sticks,
We each make our way separately through the raspberry bushes..
The pines seem more dense..
The grass taller and taller..
Then we hear this piercing cry..
And what seems like a splash..
To our surprise beyond the raspberries
There’s white sand and a little further a lake,
Dark and stagnant..
Suddenly I see,
How many people are hiding there!..
Wet, weak bodies
Gleaming, shaking, ready
To dive into the bottomless depth
At the first sign of danger..
To disappear into the shadow again
Each one alone..
Their skin lax and the bones stretched out,
As they absorb the gift of the sun
Inside this Wilderness..
In the center of the lake rocks a boat,
Alone, black against the bright sun,
No matter how hard I look I can’t see
The fisherman in it..
Maybe he’s fallen asleep lying on the bottom..
I turn around hoping to see Ivan --
But he’s disappeared, then further ahead,
Among the pines I catch a glimpse of him..
The shadow of a thick branch
Cutting him in half..
His fingers reach through the raspberries,
Raking the branches aside, appearing,
And disappearing, floating,
Emerging into the sun..
It seems to me, that he had just found
The invisible path,
That disappeared with his wife
She is not far away..
Not yet..
Then suddenly he turns..
Eyes wide open and says:
“Maybe we should go back?..”
We return the same way,
We rest
On the same fallen pine..
Strange.. no one else has been there..
No one has followed us..
As if we’d been there and not been there..
Had we been there? – my eyes ask..
He raises his eyes,
Then I understand..
No, I had not seen anything..
I was swimming in a dream, and knew nothing
About that final hiding place,
Surrounded so safely by trees..
Otherwise the raven would fly here again..
But when he appeared in the window,
There was no fear..
He pressed his useless, barely warm body,
Against my chest and then
I could shut my eyes against the blinding depth
Of the bottomless sky above me,
Over the still wet monastery wall
That the workers had drizzled with wine..
No, there was no fear..
No.. There was only pride,
On my chest rested
A wise bird without pity,
He had flown all the way here,
Past the trees of the Wilderness,
From somewhere way beyond,
Where Biblical beasts roam free,
Where they sleep under the stars, as they couple,
And avoid wells
That have been suddenly abandoned by humans.

translated from the Ukrainian by Virlana Tkacz and Wanda Phipps

lys11.doc 3/15/11

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