Words for War. selected poems. Oksana Maksymchuk & Max Rosochinsky

WordCity Literary Journal gratefully acknowledges editors Oksana Maksymchuk and Max Rosochinsky and the following poets for partnering with us on this issue. For more on this collection, please visit https://www.wordsforwar.com and consider purchasing from your favourite bookshop.


Anastasia Afanasieva – from The Plain Sense of Things
Vasyl Horoborodko – I fly away in the shape of a dandelion seed
Borys Humenyuk – An old mulberry tree near Mariupol
Yuri Izdryk – Make love
Aleksander Kabanov – Fear is a form of the good
Kateryna Kalytko – Can great things happen to ordinary people?
Lyudmyla Khersonska – I planted a camellia in the yard
Boris Khersonsky – My brother brought war to our crippled homes
Marianna Kiyahovska – we swallowed an air like earth
Halyn Kruk – like a blood clot, something
Oksana Lutyshyna – I dream of explosions
Vasyl Mokhno – Febraury Elegy
Maryana Savka – We wrote poems
Ostap Slyvynsky – Alina
Lyuba Yakimchuk – Eyebrows
Serhiy Zhadan – Village street- gas line’s broken

Anastasia Afanasieva

Of simple things — whisper, whisper — not touching the ear of another —
believe — in another’s — eardrum. So February opens, opens —
The time
whistles in a straw
as if a child sips from a glass of sparkling water.
Mouth opens, opens before each word.
And the “o” of the mouth is quiet
with want. Wide, and restrained, want.

And the snow comes as if no one knows about us and no one needs us
and there was no breath, no failure
and no earth that takes us inside.

Of simple things — in whisper, whisper. So gives us to our bodies, time.
So the hands are held in hands, the bodies drop into us.
So, the flame —
which comes from this evening which is in our stomachs.
Our stomach, a city where we
are not yet persons. And no longer a breath, us. And we — we want to go back to that breath, us. We remember, us.

Of simple things whisper, whisper. Whisper us. Us, time.

Translated from the Russian by Katie Farris and Ilya Kaminsky

Vasyl Horoborodko

I know that from here you cannot escape by plane — you have to be able to fly on your own.
Cats in the house, so many cats, gathered from the whole neighborhood
(how did they catch a whiff of my departure?) not our cats but feral cats,
although there is no such a thing as a cat gone wild.
Cats as a warning and threat to my flight as a bird,
they notice a red spot on my chest like a linnet’s,
so I’m forced to take flight in the form of a dandelion seed: I leave the house in search of wide open spaces,
past my garden and into the street and float toward
a direction very remote — now the wind gusts will carry me away, away!

Translated from the Ukrainian by Svetlana Lavochkina

Borys Humenyuk

An old mulberry tree near Mariupol
Has never seen so many boys in her life
Boys picking her fruit, boys dancing in the branches, And the smallest boy climbing
To the very top.

RPGs, a machine gun, sniper rifles, helmets, bullet-proof vests All laid carefully down.

The boys laughed, gave each other piggyback rides, Smeared mulberry juice all over their faces Sometimes on purpose — to look
Like characters from Hollywood movies.

RPGs, a machine gun, sniper rifles, helmets, bullet-proof vests All laid carefully down.

Beyond the horizon some mortars went to work Making a funny noise: “one, two, three,” “one” Like a young lover knocking on a girl’s window. A flock of ravens rose into the sky with a shriek But maybe those weren’t ravens, maybe
Those were airborne clumps of earth, tilled by the explosions.

The boys abandoned the old mulberry tree Left it whirling in a solitary dance Changed into grown men.
They sped off to assume their positions
Beyond the horizon, where the earth cried out to the sky And the sky shook.

The old mulberry tree
Is waiting for her boys by the road But nobody comes to pick her fruit.
It falls to the ground like bloody tears.

The grass that was pressed beneath
The RPGs, a machine gun, sniper rifles, helmets, bullet-proof vests All straightened out.

And when the moon rises in the sky The old mulberry tree
Gets on her tiptoes, like a girl Tries to peek over the horizon Where are you, boys?

Translated from the Ukrainian by Oksana Maksymchuk and Max Rosochinsky

Yuri Izdryk

this war isn’t war — it’s a chance not to kill anyone this love isn’t love unto death — it’s as long as it lasts to protect one another is all this occasion demands and to look at the world through a steady rifle sight
and to look within ourselves through every microscope and to look at you at every hour every minute at all times
to protect one another — and in keeping calm and carrying on to burn down to the ground and to rise up as smoke
this war isn’t war — but a certain and fiery passion this love is forever — just as moments pass forever we hit bottom to get stuck in some new heaven there is a string that binds us all together
that string between us is a safety fuse

Translated from the Ukrainian by Boris Dralyuk

Aleksander Kabanov

Fear is a form of the good, an angelic portion.
Peter’s cotton ball shadow loses consciousness.

Bald, with a funny moustache, he drinks plum brandy
until he finds his true self, becoming — a dead man.

Sparrows read the last rites. Mole crickets do the honors. Horror — a symbol of love — reeks of leftovers.

Like an explosive blast,
join the kids in the basement. Life gets to all of us,
each one will catch a shard.

Glue sticks explode in the sky. Oil tankers make us high.
Was it all worth a try, wasn’t it worth it?

Translated from the Russian by Oksana Maksymchuk and Max Rosochinsky

Kateryna Kalytko

Can great things happen to ordinary people?
The rotting boards of knowledge creak underfoot. Now you know, for example, how in wartime lights pulsate on Christmas trees in squat homes, how the deadly wind blows from a burning field burrowing like a stent between aorta walls
how Gaspar, Balthazar, Melchior
rush in an ambulance with a bullet-riddled headlight
how the thick magic forests appear out of compassion for the
prisoners of war and spread in a layer of peat over the darkened souls.
Daylight, a clawing puppy, whimpers by the pillow, the light is faint and snowy, snow will cool the faces and capture them turning into icon-like images
that cut through the heart of the earth.

If there is no warmth
until spring, let this shroud remain.
Was everything, everything that happened, for a greater good or would all the agony cause a tall tree to grow — bleeding berries, pounding against apartment windows at night?
Where did you get this glistening moonlight skin, my love? From starvation, despair, and milk, and mercury.

Translated from the Ukrainian by Olena Jennings and Oksana Lutsyshyna

Lyudmyla Khersonska

I planted a camellia in the yard.
I wanted to be a lady, not a war-ravaged rag, to cast down my lashes, let fall a light glove, put on red beads, patent-leather boots,
I listen: are there explosions,
does someone stomp the earth . . .

Translated from the Russian by Katherine E. Young

Boris Khersonsky

My brother brought war to our crippled home.
War, a little girl, hair tied in bow — she can barely walk on her own, my brother says, she can stay with you, we’ll go out, we’ll hit the road, she’s so little, she can’t keep up, can’t roam around alone!

My brother left, but war stayed, and she really is small.
She tried to help around the house, she swept the floor and all, but she is sort of weird, she pokes around in the corner,
takes junk out of grandma’s oak chests in no particular order.

At night she’s restless — and we have no peace.
She keeps silent — we’ve had no days worse than these. The windows are broken. It is too cold to stir.
And my brother still hasn’t come back for her . . .

Translated from the Russian by Olga Livshin and Andrew Janco

Marianna Kiyahovska

we swallowed an air like earth the kind of black
neighbors gardened together

and in that black
as in a fleshy cherry sweet and bitter
and in that sweet and that bitter salt and flesh

we stored in our lungs many years beforehand not the cherry plum
another tree
some of us exhaled cherry pits some bullets

stones bulged from their sockets and became eyes

everything else became memory air, fire

Translated from the Ukrainian by Oksana Lutsyshyna and Kevin Vaughn

Halyn Kruk

like a blood clot, something catches him in the rye
                                                 though in life
what is fair?
so he is annoying with his limping through the hospital courtyard missing a limb, as if he’d been limbless
in those unmiraculous fields,
so saturated with blood, no foot can fall without grasping its own absence, entered into war’s tedious register where limbs, faces, bodies are rejected like blood from mismatched donors —
his unit’s all scattered throughout the rye fields —
he begins to gather them up when he closes his eyes . . . the women bring food, clothes, medicine
and, as is their habit, sit at his feet

Translated from the Ukrainian by Sibelan Forrester and Mary Kalyna with Bohdan Pechenyak

Oksana Lutyshyna


someone sets a lighter to a bush of living fire invisible
with an invisible hand

there’s no place on earth that’s safe there’s no earth anymore
there’s nothing
how can we begin with the words:
“Nothing exists”?

the whole body becomes an organ of sight finds a foothold
for true vision
you fall out of the world as out of a sieve and you see: it’s not there,
it’s an illusion

so why does it still hurt so bad

Translated from the Ukrainian by Oksana Maksymchuk and Max Rosochinsky

Vasyl Mokhno


today the muse is the nurse who is shot through the neck in Maidan’s winter winds
in the war now upon us
for which we are given wings

the student who now lies murdered wrapped up in heavenly blankets muse, please give us some advice and hold tight onto the forceps
for the hour of death is nigh

in hearts that are shot right through in ripped open stomachs and lungs my muse, you, too, are bruised
an angel of death holding nails
while recording the names of the slain

who drags all the wounded aside who strikes matches until they blaze I see how he keeps up the fight ripping asunder his greatcoat —
two-hundred-year-old Shevchenko

Translated from the Ukrainian by Uilleam Blacker

Maryana Savka

We wrote poems about love and war, so long ago
we could have gone grey three times over— in the days before we had war,
it seemed love would never burn out and pain was in the offing
Yes, there were wounds there,
not just cracks in a chocolate heart, but they managed to heal
and we went on living. It wasn’t mocking,
or some deliberate game.
We read the signs
on palimpsests of old posters,
on the walls of blackened buildings, in coffee grounds.
What changed, my sister?
Our hot-air balloon turned into a lead ball. The metaphor — died.

Translated from the Ukrainian by Sibelan Forrester and Mary Kalyna with Bohdan Pechenyak

Ostap Slyvynsky


She danced, since evenings were still warm, and the world was being rolled up like
a carpet after a city festival,
and lights sparkled above red leaves.
She danced, because she wanted to turn back and
she knew you couldn’t resurrect things by imagining them. She danced, because it’s better to remember with the body: how she woke up, fell asleep
on the wet deck, waited for things to be loaded. How she ran
after a floppy-eared dog, not wanting to leave it to them.
She danced, because there are no more places, stamps, return
addresses, banks, municipal headquarters, no more street, water pump, half-painted
fence, soap dishes, brushes. Everything is in a single moving point, so compressed,
as a wrist where all the blood has gathered.

Translated from the Ukrainian by Anton Tenser and Tatiana Filimonova

Lyuba Yakimchuk


no-no, I won’t put on a black dress black shoes and a black shawl
I’ll come to you all in white — if I have a chance to come
and I’ll be wearing nine white skirts one beneath the other
I’ll sit down in front of the mirror (it’ll be hung up with a cloth) strike up a match
it’ll burn out and I
will moisten it with my tongue and draw black eyebrows over my own, also black
then I’ll have two pairs of eyebrows mine and yours above them
no-no, I won’t put on a black dress I’ll put on your black eyebrows
on me.

Translated from the Ukrainian by Svetlana Lavochkina

Serhiy Zhadan

Village street — gas line’s broken.
Accident site. Danger.

Emergency crew isn’t coming —
no one wants to be out during shootings. When you call them — they’re silent, don’t say anything,
like they don’t understand you.

In the store next to the day-old bread, they sell funeral wreaths.
There’s no one out in the street — everyone’s left.

There are no lines. Not for the bread, not for the wreaths.

Translated from the Ukrainian by Virlana Tkacz and Bob Holman

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Published by darcie friesen hossack

Darcie Friesen Hossack is a graduate of the Humber School for Writers. Her short story collection, Mennonites Don’t Dance, was a runner-up for the Danuta Gleed Award, shortlisted for the Commonwealth Writers Prize and the Ontario Library Association's Forest of Reading Evergreen Award for Adult Fiction. Citing irreverence, the book was banned by the LaCrete Public Library in Northern Alberta. Having mentored with Giller finalists Sandra Birdsell (The Russlander) and Gail Anderson Dargatz (Spawning Grounds, The Cure for Death by Lightening), Darcie's first novel, Stillwater, will be released in the spring of 2023. Darcie is also a four time judge of the Whistler Independent Book Awards, and a career food writer. She lives in Northern Alberta, Canada, with her husband, international award-winning chef, Dean Hossack.

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