Like Birdsong in a Time of War

I love this poem, written by Serhiy Zhadan, a prominent Ukranian poet, novelist, and founder of the ska-punk band Zhadan and the Dogs.

There’s groundlessness, the certainty of change, breath, memory, seasonality, and most of all, noticing:

Everything will change. Even this perpetual warmth
will change. The fog’s settled steadiness will shift.
The wet orthography of the grass will lose its inherently
clean line along with its stem’s expressive calligraphy.
The measure of things, which you accept so easily, will change,
the voice, which grew thicker in the dark, will get hoarse,
October, which you know by its broken light
and oversaturated space, will change too.
It will go like this: a bird’s lightness and rage
people, who forestall the evening chill by singing,
will start to remember winter like a forgotten language,
they’ll read it, re-read it, recognize it.
And everything will change for you, too, you
won’t escape this warning, this fear
of the blackbird in the morning circling the sharp,
warm trees, beating its wings against the blind gleam.
Lands that freeze to the core.
Sunny days for the brave and the luckless.
Your breath will change, in the end, when you recite
a memorized list of apologies, dogmas, and faults.
Dryness will change, and the wetness from the lowlands
will change, the field’s winter cold will change,

the stubborn October grasses and women’s inflections
will change. Like in fall, like in fall.

~ by Serhiy Zhadan of Kharkiv, Ukraine, tranls. by Amelia Glaser and Yuliya Ilchuk

Poetry is at its core the art of noticing.

“A perfect line of poetry is an encounter and reminder of not only what is, but what is possible.   Yannis Ritsos begins a poem with the line, “The statues were the first to leave,” and we follow after them in eager surprise.  Pablo Neruda says, “The horses’ rumps were worlds and oranges,” and we realize a metaphor for the simultaneous vastness and specificity of beauty.  Odysseus Elytis tells us, “What I want is something difficult and translucent, like birdsong in a time of war,” and we face the challenge of living in this world with all of its wrenching contradictions.

“We forget that we were all born as poets; children are innocent Masters of Noticing.”

Donna Baier Stein?, Tiferet, Dec. 2012

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