На крилах пісень[i]

The soldier came knocking upon the Queen’s door.[ii] With the twiddly branches of old white oak trees planted a long time ago on wide boulevards hanging delicately over streets whose names had been forgotten. The streets were brightened by crossings lattice lines of electrical round lights with the patina of old bulbs – the new kind which made less heat were still being debated in the council chamber. Now one spoke over these wires. In the distance large rectangular office buildings humped in the skyline. It was the largest creation of humanity in the land now called Ukraine.

The soldier came knocking with ill intent. In the soldier’s mind, he was a conquering hero who would be venerated by his citizens. But the citizens did not see him that way and so the soldier came crashing down on the Queen. A Queen that had been known for her wit. Many thought that she would bend and break when threatened by so much as a glower. Threads across the boulevards were no match, so it seemed, for the brutality and bluster of the soldier.The sun rose, and the day woke up clear. It was the kind of spring where the buds start their inexorable march towards unfolding. A man looked up from the sidewalk and merely stared at the loveliness that surrounded him. Spring does not care for the goings-on of soldiers.

A ray is where a spark pours but Aleksander was not in tune with the season, instead he brooded on the days yet to come when the Russians would strike with all their might against Kyiv. He knew he would be at the front because of his long days of training over the last several years. In that time, he had grown used to an overbearing demeanor and crisp sharp commands. He had also been given trust over those he commanded because there was nothing that he asked of any man that he would not do himself.

He looked down at the sneakers and stretched out his toes. It was a morning off before he went back to the area that had become the base. But Aleksander found nothing but time to brood on the coming night’s events. Though he would not pass the words over his lips, he was afraid, deeply deathly afraid. So, would be any man who knew rivals were trying to find their foes and that rockets were landing a higgedly piggly to turn over the earth and scatter its contents hither and yon.

He looked up and down the boulevard with no cars, people, trucks, or dogs. Only the cats were scattered over the asphalt, and most of them were retiring. It felt serene. And it was serene most of the time, but rockets’ red glare had intruded a few times in the night. They ripped down concrete walls and huge windowpanes. He saw one just down the street.

Then up ahead, he saw a young man with black hair. He would see that man in uniform very soon because the young man was part of his company.

Of course, being an officer, he spoke. “Greetings.”

Leo looked up; it was clear that he had been distracted by his thoughts. “Kapitan.” A clear smile lit up the young man’s face. “I would not have taken you as a man who would spend any time wandering the street. Are you going to be ready for tonight?” And then hastily: “Sir.”

Aleksander smiled. Leo had only been promoted to Serzhant recently. It was still a junior non-commissioned officer rank.

“Serzhant, I will tell you a small secret: we must be ready to do our duty but realize that we are never truly prepared for any eventuality.” The words came out of his mouth, and they formed a regular type of dialogue that he had mastered in his time in the Army.
Leo nodded.

Sometime later Aleksander was controlling a tank, and Leo had the helm. It was dark, and dark clouds still overhead. They were in the woods with trees crowded around them. It was auiet, and the wind did not blow on Aleksander. It was is reaching for other lives: a pot on the fir git ground; a ripped up pooh now distend out of pooh corner; lingerie divinized with no one left to wear it.[iii] Shredded bags and torn blankets skiterred. Only the hut is white.

There was an urgency. Into the night munitions fired and detonated. Aleksander looked up, down, and all around.

In a flash, he saw a weapon. In the bushes. Aiming; aiming for him. There was a moment of panic. But only one, because without realizing it his pistol was locked and loaded. Both men fired. His enemy missed.

Aleksander did not.

The soldier was killed.[iv]

Off in the distance, a helicopter bloomed white and exploded. Crash, beep, beep.[v]

Without realizing it, he went through the motion of halting the tank. Then he slung over the side with Leo watching his commander’s coolness under fire.

Aleksander went on all fours and examined the kill. It was a Yefréytor – a private first class. He too was young. As were the young men he protected. Waste of life otherwise. But his charges would come home, to their mothers and sisters.

“Sometimes nothing happens like on the wing of songs.”[vi]

Then looking down at his work.

“Sometimes I dig the grave.”

[i] On the wings of song.
[ii] An allusion to Vega, “The Queen and the Soldier”.
[iii] An allusion to Milne , “A House at Pooh Corner.”
[iv] An allusion to Vega, “The Queen and the Soldier”.
[v] The Playmates,“Honk, Rattle, Crash, Beep Beep”
[vi] Lesya Ukrainka (Леся Українка) – Book of poetry. Title.

Вечер накануне Ивана Купала[i]

There are moments that un-terrorize visions of horror. Twisted metal burned on a stroad with houses, one touched to another, in this, the East of the West. Bucha was a name that few people heard of; it was a point on a map outside of Kyiv. Even the few who had heard it had heard it almost recently on charts of a faintly military hue. Gogol would be proud of the objective – all Slavs.

There were infantry troop carriers on the stroad on every side of the pitch. Bent up, twisted down, crushed to perfect bent grace. Everywhere a “Z” spilled through. What is odd is that “Z” is not a figure in the Russian alphabet, instead, the letter “З” is used.[ii]

Now furrows in brow creased the low rumpled cast found on Zelenskyy’s frown. Oh, frabjous day but no callooh or callay. No tears either; simply reached out staring with dents on his cheeks. Poverty is not poverty till it comes to windows ripped down and denuded maples, knocked on the roof, and scratched the wall. Bricks shorn asunder as pavement to the clear white sky. Crack asphalt with mud. A crashed upright piano was snapped on the sidewalk.

The president. The military president now, stalking the ground and lifted his head.

“Yes, I believe this to be genocide.” With guns in his entourage. A pain that he is too used to, but anything else would be living out of touch, in kingdom come. The advisors had told him that this was probably done at night because everything had been done up-close and personal. Muzzle shots clench at bitter flesh, their fresh blackness stood out.

An advisor leaned in through the hubba of news reporters. The advisors glared back at the reporters and gave a scowl. The pens paused in unison and scratching on the notepads halted.

In a whisper: “We have some worse news for you. Borodyanka, another suburb, looks to be worse. Tall buildings. Apartments. More ripped-up cars. Many more slain and raped.”

The president showed a grim nod to the press. Inside he knew the town Borodyanka because long ago he had campaigned there with a tirelessness of someone who had no chance of winning. It was then a time of sore arms not broken legs. Dreadful, not London, was calling. The Russians were getting it on, to screams they laughed over.

They walked amidst the upturned bodies, shapes to the sun. A pawed fragment that was, once, a man’s face with arms cusped back behind his head. Bellowing out the loose brains in vomit.

The advisor moved one step back. “When do we tell them?”

“Give them 15 minutes to digest, and then call a helicopter for me to take me toBorodyanka. They will get the rest because now they have been simmered into the nice hot juices of war.” Now it was the advisor’s turn to nod. The maw wanted conflict even as the audience feigned for peace.

He whispered back: “The coming of the news is not in our control.”

The advisor stepped back to the throng of security. He watched the two men in infantry fatigues. One was a full-on grunt and therefore the advisor never had more than the flotilla of taking and giving of details. But the other one was more talkative. He was more concerned and noticed with his eyes and ears. He was Serzhant Tymur Kryvonis.[iii] The wind blew his black hair to expose his growing bald mountain.[iv]

“Cards are stacked against us.”[v] It is not just the military from the Serzhant.

“Why do you say so?” The advisor had a lilting float to his diction.

“The stars are not aligned for the Western powers to save us.” The Serzhant sighed. “Look at the street, blocks of nothing but a fart in puddle.[vi] Tanks going from one side to the other on the widest block in a morass like sorghum. There were powers at work here.” Both looked at the tall trees cordoning boulevard with tanks, carriers, and fuel trucks littering everywhere. “There are those who believe in powers who control our aimless dance?”

“Not every horror is inflicted on us by the Russians.” The Serzhant looks the advisor straight in the face. The clouds blacken.

“You believe the stories about ‘de-Nazification’ and the rest?”

“I know the Southern flank is held by ultranationalists. They are their own.”

“We have to have all Ukrainians together.”

“Even if they want to bash others who don’t meet their standard?”

“One foe at a time. It’s better to have one God at a time maligned.”

“Why don’t the western powers take us? Why the Finns and the Swedes?”

The was no answer from the advisor until he replied: “We are still button pushers.”[vii]

The Serzhant made a motion as if to push something out of the way.

Zelenskyy turned to a ruined door in a bombed-out doma. There was a polite scream for the bodyguards, but the president moved ahead. The guards worried about bombs. The president then turned to the reporters and pointed at the portal. There was a white letter “Z” in the Banksy-style of spray.

“This is the destruction that the Russian troops mete out.” A faint smear of sun-blasted the door from a thin beam. Splinters warmed to meet it. The scrawling continued even oner the debris of once building, as far as the wind could carry. White “Z.” White “Z.” And in unison: White “Z.”

The snow came down again. Soon, it was thick.

The President went to the stroad and took a while in thought. Then his gaze fixed on a stuffed white rabbit. A small hand was near it in the rubble. And farther away a hand with chipped lavender painted nails extended as if reaching. Then a tear moved down his wearied face because the President had a vision of the last moments of their  life, torn from them, as the mother said “Z” to a little girl – to rest against the riptide that came.

се перяха небесните тайни[viii]

Journal of Seman Kushnyr

Odessa – 25 March 2022

I never meant to be so bad to you. Please forgive me, please forgive me, please forgive me, Yevtsye. God may be listening to me, but he has yet not found the right moment to answer. Or perhaps the answer is in music. God is not so light.

Will you forgive me? I look through the high bedroom window – a giant window from the latter half of the 19th century, that looks down on the trees and the ocean. Odesa must have been magnificent then.

I know why I have this room: most people with any money have left,  and they have taken all the good wines, I know because I am drinking the husks of what remainstin the sparkling flavor.

That is down on Frantsuz’ky Boulevard where I go around to the back and let Ostap pull me in for the wines which have no value because there is almost no one to drink them. Then he pushes me out before his boss chases me out. His boss thinks of money even though there is none to be had.

Ostap is a true friend of mine, and he reminds me that I am only sometimes a true friend.

The difference is that a true friend will always think of other people first especially the friends that he (Or she! I must remember to use a person absent word! Forgive me. Again. Always?) might have, whereas the somewhat friend will think of them only in passing or when they have enough money for his own needs. Even when drunk, Ostap thinks of his friends.

I do not know when the Russians will reach here. Ostap thinks that they will not but with such overwhelming forces, I can’t be as optimistic as he is.

That is why I am writing these notes: I would rather call you or send you a bad email or write you a good letter. But that would requie me to admit to the world that I was wrong, and you were right. It is so easy to do to myself but so hard to do for the person that I need to do it for. Can the word please be a refrain? I would repeat it endlessly if I knew it would be heard by you and by God. You know that even God would not stop a look from you that would make me fall from grace. I would happily be among the dead if my mother knew this. I do not know if I will see her again at her small gate on the outskirts of Kyiv.

However, the events of this time, our time, are too monumental to ignore. In the north I have overheard that there was a ruckus at the Chornobyl Exclusion Zone. Several radioactive isotopes were absconded with, and it seems obvious that it is by the Russians. I know they deny, it almost seems as if it is a verb tense in Russian. Yes, yes, yes, I read my grammar book. It is one of the ones I have left.

Do you remember when we used to dance? It seems so long ago. I wish, I want, I will, for those times to come again.

But back to more events. I cannot call them news because I hear only the shells landing. That is ‘news’ of the world, all else you will know before I send your email – I may have a source for an internet connection. I may not be the champion, but mud does not stop me.

What I must tell is that the ship belonging to the Russians, the Saratov, was struck by a missile, reportedly a Tochka ballistic type, but that has not been verified. This was near the point of Berdyansk that sticks out into the Sea of Azov. It was a hastily arranged command for the Russian fleet and was littered with cranes and the normal naval nostalgia. It was placed as a gun over Mariupol, the garden city with Daffodils in bloom. Do you remember the week we spent in Mariupol? Berdyank is nothing like that – instead, it is a military base with a flag to wave.

That is how I met Ostap. It was late in the evening. I was roaring drunk and without a kopiyok to my name. The building hung low. Things were blurry and spiny. I hit a telephone pole. More than one. Then a thin man caught my hand. He said, “Do you know where you are going?”

With slurred speech, I named the pad when I was to crash.

“It will be locked by now. Would you like to share a bed? I am with friends.”

I said yes, in a manner of speaking. I was disgraced to say sleeping under the stars.

So, we weaved our way along the inside beach. I noticed that he was looking at the port. And I asked him why.

“Very soon there will be warships there, there is building.”

“What does that have two to do with you or me?”

“I do not know about you, but I would find somewhere else to make a living.”

“Well, actually I do not make a living here.”

He looked me up and down, my belt was as tight as it would go, and it was loose for all that. My socks did not match. The shoes had a raggedy look. It was obvious that even though I wore a jacket, it was a ruin that passed itself off as a jacket.

“I am leaving in the middle of next week. Do you have money for a ticket to Odesa?”

I admitted that I did not.

“Are you willing to borrow money from me and take a bus?”

I did not know if I could trust him, but the options were limited from my perspective. Somebody had to put me in my place. So, I agreed. I glanced at the port and wondered what it would be like filled with warships, and I could not actually see it. I have never fought in a war, and only by ellipsis could I conceive of what it would be like. I only know that there will be only losers to this war, even if Ukraine disrupts a zone of victory.

And that was when I left with the thin man. I told him several of my indiscretions, and he listened but I knew I would never talk about it to anyone else. This is why this journal and Ostap are my only true friends. Would you be the third? I cannot promise to be a friend in return, but I will try my best. It would be like a cleansing underneath my skin.

The heavenly secrets were washed away.[ix]