3 poems for Ukraine. by Adrienne Stevenson

Adrienne Stevenson (1)

Sisters, 1906
inspired by the painting "Carousel", by Olexandr Murashko (Ukraine) 1906 

the day before our trip to Odesa
that day of endings and beginnings
my sister and I went to the fair
dressed in our best shawls
long skirts flowing over backs
of wooden steeds, the carousel
would remain when we had left
but we would leave no trace

the day before we boarded the ship
to bring us to the new land
we visited the stalls selling
food we were sure to miss
borscht, holubtsi, varenyky
even if beets, cabbage and potatoes
were abundant there
they would not taste the same

the day before we left our home
cradling pysanky—fragile mementos
we spent one final day
in traditional costume
in the new land we would try
to blend in, go unnoticed
be accepted despite our difference
take on new identities

now it is the next day
we have arrived at the docks
passage booked, papers in hand
will our daughters, and theirs
thank us for taking the journey
for becoming something other
or will they cling to remnants
of the lives they imagine for us?

…never dreaming that many days hence
in a new century, their cousins may face
the same stark choice to leave their homes.




 
Taking Dictation

the decree came down today
imposing new laws to govern
thought, word, deed
our behaviour constricted
by populist tirade
we must conform
to an illogical ideology
the threats against disobedience
are real, life and death
anyone could hang
if the balance tips
madness and hate hold
too many minds
weapons in the hands
of the hateful, wield
horrific power, support
edicts imposed on the unwary
by the unknowing

must we take this dictation?
we, worms of the earth
can in our multitude
turn against the traps
tunnel in opposite directions
march in harmony, consent
to cooperate, pass judgment
on domestic terrorists
restore society to a norm
that rules against assumed rank
and deposes illegitimate tyrants




 
Grand Cycle

Propaganda enfolds us with words,
calling itself news.
Which lies to believe;
what pictures trust;
where find truth?
Senses fuddled; thought rebels
—we prefer silence.

Hatred buries hope.
Gap in understanding
opens a chasm;
entombs lost dreams.

Well into the second half,
outcome still uncertain,
players shift positions.
Onlookers scrutinize, criticize
—who's keeping score?

Mind numb with repetition,
thoughts that dominate
day and night
—doors open;
wheels turn;
wars end—
I still think of you.

Appeared previously on http://www.poetsagainstthewar.org 2003, site now archived

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Adrienne Stevenson is a Canadian living in Ottawa, Ontario. A retired forensic scientist and Pushcart-nominated poet, when not writing, she tends a large garden. Her poetry has appeared in more than thirty print and online publications in Canada, the USA, the UK, and Australia, most recently in Poetry for Ukraine, Lifespan vol. 4 Work, Glebe Report, The BeZine, MacroMicroCosm. Twitter @ajs4t

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What Will Be Remembered. a poem by The Reverend Ngwa Hosea Ambe Nchesi

Ngwa Hosea Ambe Nchesi

What Will Be Remembered

Sow the seeds that will sprout
And grow into fruit-breaking trees
While you’re alive.
For your works will define you
When this candle is put off.

For when you’re gone
And in that little box lie
In that lonely corner of the world
Your own little portion
Of the earth beneath,
Only your trees will speak for you.

Let your life be a blessing
A book that’ll never be discarded
On the topest shelf when you’re gone,
But a book to be read each day
For its sweetness
Its comforts.

Remember that goodness is better than wealth
For each one born in this world,
Takes nothing more than that piece of wood
That tiny wooden gift
The last gift from humanity
Only the deeds will be remembered,
When you’re gone
Shipped in that tiny wooden box
That last gift from mankind.

Culled from a funeral sermon February 25,2022

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The Reverend Ngwa Hosea Ambe Nchesi is a seasoned and career Clergyman of the Presbyterian Church in Cameroon (PCC) with an enormous breath of experiences both at Parish and the administrative strata. He is currently the Presbytery Secretary for Mezam and serves as the Main Parish Pastor for Presbyterian Church Ntamulung Congregation. Rev Ngwa Hosea Ambe is an in-born humanitarian individual who does a lot of outreach humanitarian services to orphanages, Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) and other vulnerable persons within and outside his parish. Rev Ngwa Hosea Ambe Nchisi is the author of the book; I Am Your Servant: Use Me Lord.  In this book, he has highlighted salient issues in the scope of leadership at all spheres, both for secular and ecclesiastical God-fearing leaders.

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In the Slips. a poem by Pratibha Castle

Pratibha Castle

In the Slips
 
While the world watches 
Violetta, clad in years
the measure of a week,
journeys from Odessa 
with her doll and cat 
 
and a Grandma 
her face a crumpled map 
of lifetime drills 
framed by a scarf 
the color of losing
urges a boy soldier 
put this flower in your pocket
 
hopes his flesh 
rotted into trampled mud
bone and blood
transmuted to 
a claggy womb 
will birth a crop 
of smiling sunflowers
 
and men in black 
as if spectators 
at a cricket match 
watch a tank 
grizzle over cobblestones
across the city square 
while a man
sprints into its path  
scoops up a hand- grenade 
underarms it 
at a pile of rubble
the dog-end 
dangling from his lip 
a red-eyed fuse

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Pratibha Castle’s award-winning debut pamphlet A Triptych of Birds and A Few Loose Feathers (Hedgehog Poetry Press) was published February 2022. Her work appears in Agenda, HU, Blue Nib, IS&T, London Grip, OHC, Friday Poem, High Window, Lime Square Poets, Live Encounters Poetry & Writing, WordCity Literary Journal and Dreich, amongst others. Highly commended and long-listed in a number of competitions, including The Bridport Prize and Welsh Poetry Competition, Sentinel Literary Journal, Brian Dempsey Memorial Award, Binsted Arts and Storytown. A regular reader for The Poetry Place, West Wilts Radio, she is featured on Home Stage: Meet the Poet.

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a poem for Ukraine by Reinhold Stipsits

Reinhold Stipsits-1

Spring paints without brush
Leaf buds blossom heart shaped
What a great lover

A Robin redbreast
In a flutter of spirits
Proudly presents hope

The Ides of March
Only cowslip bells ringing
Lay down your weapons

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Austrian, born in Lower Austria, Reinhold Stipsits spent most of his academic career as professor for social pedagogics at the University of Vienna. He was Visiting Scholar at the University of Texas in Austin, served as a reviewer of study programs in Lithuania, Croatia, Bosnia. He was fortunate to meet and work with distinguished people in the field of psychology such as Douglas A. Land, Carl R. Rogers and John M. Shlien. As author and as a person-centered psychotherapist he is committed to trust the process. Therein he considers himself as a tour guide into the amusement park of life. He pursues a goal to share experiences and encounters in all kinds of habitat. He writes poetry, mainly haiku, short stories and semi-fictional reportages.

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Lament for Mariupol. a poem by Jack J. B. Hutchens

Jack Hutchins

Lament for Mariupol

It is impossible to get lost in flattened ruins
as grainy char will always point you towards hell,
and tall buildings wavering in the hazy Slavic evening 
no longer obstruct violent red horizons.

This long-forgotten place, squeezed between the wide 
European plain and the cold deep of the Azov Sea,
is now the stuff of hagiographies recorded on dry
bits of ancient, stained paper falling apart at the seams.

Even the saints regard this jagged martyrdom with awe,
stunned by the brutal pain of concrete brick draping bodies, 
their own amateurish suffering a pale analogue soft and dim 
against the bright souls of victims shining in afternoon dust. 

The rain brings nothing new, falling in heavy gray drops that flood open mouths,
while ash and bone drain into the encroaching sea along with the dreams of the dead.

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Jack J. B. Hutchens is a lecturer of Polish literature and culture at Loyola University Chicago. His academic work has appeared in The Journal of Popular Culture¸ The Toronto Slavic Quarterly, and Canadian Slavonic Papers. He is the author of a monograph, Queer Transgressions in Twentieth-Century Polish Fiction. His creative work has appeared in The Bangalore Review, Flint Hills Review, Aurora, Sobotka, and others. He has authored a chapbook of poetry entitled There/Here: Poems of Journey and Home. He lives in Champaign, Illinois, with his wife Amanda and their daughter Harriet.

WordCity Literary Journal is provided free to readers from all around the world, and there is no cost to writers submitting their work. Substantial time and expertise goes into each issue, and if you would like to contribute to those efforts, and the costs associated with maintaining this site, we thank you for your support.

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3 poems for Ukraine. by Katia Kapovich

KatiaCreditAlexanderLevinskyj

Chronicles of this war

In February the world became silent like a mouse,
you open a comp to see a falling house, 
an old man embracing what is left, a puppy,
while in the background burns a flying canopy
that somehow flew through the broken window glass.
So the old man takes an empty bottle,
fills it up with a gasoline
makes a Molotov cocktail and goes to battle 
an armored car fighting for his Ukraine,
for its poplars, for its peaceful hearth,
for its people, for a church steeple
because not gods win war on earth,
but regular guys, ordinary people.





I Refuse

I refuse to write beautiful verse
in these days when an old man dies
because a rocket hits his house
in the present continuous tense.
When a woman screams in the debris
I refuse to write beautiful lies,
On my mind and with such esprit
only her bloody face and burning eyes.
No way I say “yes” to the view
to a plane in a Kharkiv’s windowpane,
Hey you, occupier: “Fuck you,
go away from my Ukraine!”





Talk softly to yourself

Talk softly to yourself
while walking down the street:
“Too much grief! Too much grief.
Is it my fault?” The air is sweet.
In Bucha a man lies by the curb.
His little girl is embracing her dog,
waiting for her dad to wake up.
He won’t. Internal monologue.
Good God, behold our losses!
Corpses, corpses, corpses.
Alone, you turn a corner, reaching home. 
Elsewhere, death hits, another life is gone.


***
When this horrible war is over
we’ll come out to the streets with flowers,
carnations, clematis, white clover –
long leave, peace! 
We’ll again fall in love with faces
on the river’s wooden pierce,
with the grass of asphalt crevices –
long live, peace!
We’ll say the names of the dead soldiers,
of all these who we terribly miss,
When the horrible war finally ends,
long live, peace.

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KATIA KAPOVICH is the author of ten Russian collections and of two volumes of English verse, Gogol in Rome (Salt, 2004, shortlisted for England’s 2005 Jerwood Alderburgh Prize) and Cossacks and Bandits (Salt, 2008). Her English language poetry has appeared in the London Review of Books, Poetry, The New Republic, Harvard Review, The Independent, The Common, Jacket, Plume and numerous other periodicals, as well as in several anthologies including Best American Poetry 2007 and Poetry 180 (Random House, Billy Collins, Ed.)  Katia Kapovich, the recipient of the 2001 Witter Bynner Fellowship from the U.S. Library of Congress, and a poet-in-residence at Amherst College in 2007, lives in Cambridge, Massachusetts. She is the recipient of the 2013 Russian Prize in the category “Short Fiction”. Also, in 2019 she received an international Hemingway Prize for her book of short stories, that includes fictionalized documentary proze.

http://www.poetryinternationalweb.net/pi/site/poet/item/15895/Katia-Kapovich

WordCity Literary Journal is provided free to readers from all around the world, and there is no cost to writers submitting their work. Substantial time and expertise goes into each issue, and if you would like to contribute to those efforts, and the costs associated with maintaining this site, we thank you for your support.

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Ancestral Home. a poem by Olga Stein

OLGA STEIN89

Ancestral Home

My mother’s and my father’s parents,
babushki, dedushki, cousins galore
were born in Ukraine, in towns and cities,
whose names make up familial lore.

Odessa, Zhytomyr, Kyiv — known to me places
comprise a timeline, whole lines of descent
that emanate from memories, where half-familiar faces
return and sweeten them like a beloved scent 

There are so many drops of blood, 
or, if you will, strands of hereditary code,
that on an inborn, cellular level
Ukraine is a constant, an abode.

Ukraine, my ancestors’ ancestral home —
indelible, yet bleak now, bleeding, another Somme. 

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Olga Stein holds a PhD in English, and is a university and college instructor. She has taught writing, communications, modern and contemporary Canadian and American literature. Her research focuses on the sociology of literary prizes. A manuscript of her book, The Scotiabank Giller Prize: How Canadian is now with Wilfrid Laurier University Press. Stein is working on her next book, tentatively titled, Wordly Fiction: Literary Transnationalism in Canada. Before embarking on a PhD, Stein served as the chief editor of the literary review magazine, Books in Canada, and from 2001 to 2008 managed the amazon.com-Books in Canada First Novel Award (now administered by Walrus magazine). Stein herself contributed some 150 reviews, 60 editorials, and numerous author interviews to Books in Canada (the online version is available at http://www.booksincanada.com). A literary editor and academic, Stein has relationships with writers and scholars from diverse communities across Canada, as well as in the US. Stein is interested in World Literature, and authors who address the concerns that are now central to this literary category: the plight of migrants, exiles, and the displaced, and the ‘unbelonging’ of Indigenous peoples and immigrants. More specifically, Stein is interested in literary dissidents, and the voices of dissent, those who challenge the current political, social, and economic status quo. Stein is the editor of the memoir, Playing Under The Gun: An Athlete’s Tale of Survival in 1970s Chile by Hernán E. Humaña.

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Another thing about a war. a poem by Nina Kossman

fbt

Another thing about a war

Another thing about a war
(besides the thing we all know,
the one about killing)
is that, once it begins,
you have no right to talk about small things,
such as koalas, trees, melting ice, poems, and paintings,
which, when you think about it,
are worth talking about more than any war

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Moscow born, Nina Kossman is a bilingual writer, poet, translator of Russian poetry, painter, and playwright. Her English short stories and poems have been published in US, Canadian and British journal. Her Russian poems and short stories have been published in major Russian literary journals. Among her published works are two books of poems in Russian and English, two volumes of translations of Marina Tsvetaeva’s poems, two collections of short stories, an anthology, Gods and Mortals: Modern Poems on Classical Myth, published by Oxford University Press, and a novel. Her new book of poems and translations has just been published. Her work has been translated into Greek, Japanese, Dutch, Russian, and Spanish. She received a UNESCO/PEN Short Story Award, an NEA fellowship, and grants from Foundation for Hellenic Culture, the Onassis Public Benefit Foundation, and Fundacion Valparaiso. She lives in New York.

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The ‘Jaws’ of Victory. non-fiction by Maxim Matusevich

Maxim Matusevich bw 1

The ‘Jaws’ of Victory

That spring of 1988 was a spring like no other. At the end of March, the elderly Minister of Defense issued his bi-annual decommissioning order. It was published in all the major newspapers — a small and inconspicuous looking item at the bottom of the back page of the Izvestia or Pravda, or that idiotic army paper that we loved to mock (the Red Star?). However,  for those of us who had been drafted in the Spring of 1986, it wasn’t so ‘small’. My best friend and fellow infantry sergeant, Yurik, used his connections outside the base to procure multiple copies of the papers carrying the order that heralded our freedom. We then carved out the tiny squares — to be ironed into plastic sheaths and carried around in the breast pockets of our fatigues, a symbol of our enhanced social standing, and a memento to be preserved for future generations.

Yes, technically we were still soldiers but only barely; we were more like civilians in waiting. Even the officers, especially the young lieutenants, began to treat us with certain respect and consideration. We were дембеля, the ones on the brink of discharge, inhabiting a liminal space between serfdom and emancipation. The ambiguity of this status was a source of both excitement and anxiety. The days dragged on. We smoked a great deal in silence. We tried to read but couldn’t. We hung around with the Uzbek kitchen cohort at the canteen. In the after hours, the Uzbeks grilled pork. Makhsudbek, the head chef, assured us that it was lamb. Not pork, no. Pork was not halal and he would never touch it. Only he did, of course. Yurik delighted in observing Makhsudbek’s contortions and played along, praising his magic culinary touch and the delicious ‘lamb’. I remember thinking how easy it was to manufacture one’s own truth, to turn fiction into reality by giving it a name.

Those final weeks — they crawled. Some of us were counting the days; the more anxious souls were counting hours. In the meantime, in those rare moments when we could find it in ourselves to pause our dreams of freedom — of home-cooked meals, sex, and family reunions — certain thoughts and questions crept in. Something strange was afoot beyond the fenced-off perimeter of our sleepy military town. In early March, a huge fight broke out between the Azeri and Armenian privates of the 3rd mechanized infantry battalion. Apparently, the brawl’s origins could be traced to an interethnic conflict unfolding in a mountainous region some 2500 kilometers away from our base. Afterwards, our company commander, a wounded Afghan vet, looked worried: “Not a good sign; when this sort of hatred bubbles up to the surface, countries fall apart. Trust me, I’ve seen this shit happen in real time.” Captain Oganesian was a kindly psychopath, damaged by the horrors he witnessed during the battle of Zhawar. An ethnic Armenian, he was a pleasant enough guy when sober.

There were some other indirect signs of a seismic shift occurring in the vast country beyond our garrison town. In his regular letters to me, my father started making constant opaque references to “something new that I’ve read, something that could have never been published before.” In one of his last letters to me he mentioned a vacation he was planning for my post-discharge weeks. We would go to a Lithuanian resort, famous for its sandy dunes, but more importantly, for its public library, which was well stocked with subscriptions to Moscow’s literary magazines. “We’ll read,” my dad promised. “We’ll read and read and read. There’s so much to read now.” All this sounded disorienting. After two years of isolation, I harbored less ambitious expectations.

And then there were letters from my girlfriend, a prolific and emotive writer. During her previous semester she had gone on a study abroad trip to East Germany and had returned overwhelmed by the experience. In her letters, she kept referencing locations with strange-sounding names: Leipzig, Halle, Jena, among others. Apart from some of my commanding officers, who had fought in Afghanistan, Angola, and Central America, she was the only person I knew who had been abroad. “It’s almost as if you are dating a foreigner,” opined the all-knowing Yurik, who in his twenty-two years on earth had never crossed the borders of the Vladimir region. Before serving in the army, he had done eighteen months for aggravated battery in a penal colony for delinquents. The charges resulted from a battle royal between Yurik’s ‘crew’ of local thugs and a group of artillery cadets. The two factions clashed on the hardwood dance floor of Vladimir’s most dangerous spot — the Park of Culture and Rest of the Toilers, named after the city’s namesake, Vladimir Lenin.

The park, and especially its famed dance floor, were central to Yurik’s personal story and identity. It was on this sacred turf that Yurik’s homeboys and the cadets vied for the affections of a trio of Ukrainian yarn spinners, who happened to be on a summer training assignment at a local textile factory. It was certainly not his first fight at Lenin Park, but it was one that went particularly badly for Yurik: blood was spilled, and the militia caught Yurik literally red-handed (his hands all bloodied), since he was in possession of a well-sharpened metal object of some unknown industrial origin. Predictably, the cadets were let off the hook, while Yurik, who was not a future Soviet army officer like them but rather a disposable local hoodlum, was turned into a handy scapegoat. The battered artillerists moved on with their army careers. Meanwhile, Yurik was sent to a juvenile detention center, conveniently situated just outside Vladimir’s city limits. So no, there wasn’t much globe-trotting in his case. Besides, Yurik’s geographic ambitions were modest, and he most certainly never expected to set foot, for example, inside the German State Library of the University of Jena (Thüringer Universitäts- und Landesbibliothek Jena), first founded in 1558; or even anywhere near this famed library — on the cobblestones of Jena’s old town, where, in 1806, emperor Napoleon triumphantly rode his grey Arabian past the philosopher Hegel.

Besides the serialized travelogue, my girlfriend’s letters contained other intriguing cues, pointing to a world apparently changed beyond my immediate recognition. Take the Belgian exchange student, for example, and his mad crush on my girlfriend. In several of her letters, she went to great lengths to describe the ups and downs of their relationship. ‘Ups’ for her due to the excitement of being pursued by a bespectacled native French-speaker; ‘Downs’ for him, I assumed (naively, Yurik thought), because of my continuing, albeit long-distance, presence in her life. The Belgian’s heartache was of little interest to me — far less interesting than the mere fact of his corporeal existence: a flesh-and-blood Belgian was walking the streets of my city, wooing my girlfriend. I had never met a Belgian before, but I did have a one-franc Belgian coin in my collection, which bore the image of a young woman, depicted in profile, wearing a headdress. The coin was minted in 1976, the year I started elementary school. Before the army, I considered it one of my cherished possessions. The Belgian student probably had a pocketful of such coins — loose change for him, no doubt.

It occurred to me that it would’ve been nice to meet him in person, to become his friend. It was a strange aspiration on my part, but the perceived end of history can be a time of moral confusion. “I told you,” Yurik said, “dating your girl is totally like dating a foreigner. It’s almost like being a foreigner. Remember those Cuban lieutenants, who were assigned to the second battalion for training last year? It’s probably sort of like that, like being around them. Fun!” Yurik’s associative thinking often left me scratching my head.

It was Yurik, of course, who first got wind of the opening of the first ever ‘commercial’ video salon in town, on the premises of the workers’ canteen at the railroad depot. The canteen was one of our favorite spots in a drab garrison town that had few gastronomical options. Once a week we would sneak off the base for a couple of hours and head down to the depot, where Galina the cook, whose long-suffering and callused heart always softened at the sight of Yurik, treated us to a generous meal of meatloaf and mashed potatoes, followed by a glass of sour cream.

We usually showed up at the depot soon after the lunch hour rush to avoid unfriendly witnesses (some of our officers’ wives worked at the railroad yards), and the even less friendly black-striped patrols from the tank division, who had a thing for us red-striped infantrymen. Galina watched us eat with motherly tenderness, giving most of her attention to Yurik and making sure that his glass of sour cream remained at least half-full. “You little soldiers,” she would sigh, “you silly little soldiers. Don’t they feed you at that base of yours?” An invisible but powerful bond connected her to Yurik, or rather, as she herself put it, to “his kind.” The two of them understood each other without exchanging too many words. They came from similar places and shared the same lane on life’s journey. She was not unkind to me, but I was clearly a stranger (and strange) to her. Not Yurik though. She’d sigh (she sighed a lot) and she’d point at Yurik with a wet kitchen towel: “Your buddy here will be alright. He’s a city boy, a student. But you sweetie, ah, you’re trouble. I just know, know your type, seen too many of you.” Sadly, she was right. Our meal was usually bookended by the passage of the Gorky-Leningrad express, which sped by without slowing down because the station was too insignificant even for a 5-minute whistle stop. I’d look on longingly at the tail-end of a quickly disappearing train. In fifteen hours it would pull into Moscow Railway Station in Leningrad, just a 10-minute walk from my apartment. In fifteen hours the train would arrive in a city that I missed very much, a city where my girlfriend was busy with her classes while also tending to the broken heart of an exchange student from Belgium.

The canteen didn’t entirely abandon its primary purpose, but its backspace was suddenly taken over by a couple of heavy-set individuals, clad in black leather jackets. The two were men of few words and direct action. Within days they erected a partition, cordoning off this back portion of the dining hall by means of heavy black drapes. Behind the drapes they lined up a few chairs in front of a plastic café table, flimsy and unstable on its rickety aluminum legs. A TV monitor was placed atop the table, elevated on a pile of sawed-off plywood boards for a better viewing experience. The monitor was connected to a device that Yurik told me was called a ‘vidak’. I had never seen a video player. The contraption, when described by Yurik, sounded futuristic. The men in black, as I now think of them, were the harbingers of a brave new world awaiting us in the months and years ahead; they were ‘guests from the future’, who alighted on the dirty linoleum floor of this decrepit canteen to show us the way, and guide us toward the flickering lights of the end of history.

We planned our first visit to the video salon meticulously. Yurik engaged one of his numerous contacts to secure a copy of the hourly schedule of the patrolling units, especially the notorious ones from the tank and artillery regiments (both black-striped and therefore potentially hostile). The staff officer on duty that day was an amicable drunk, temperamental but otherwise not a threat. Yurik sweet-talked him into a minor dereliction of his responsibility of immediately reporting any discovered absentees from the base. The kindly major agreed to look the other way for a couple of hours, and a pack of Bulgarian TU-134 cigarettes sealed the deal. Most of the officers were conveniently absent from the barracks, practicing their BMP-driving skills on the slopes of the tank range by the river. The roar of the engines echoed from afar, the distant sound mixing soothingly with the chirruping of spring birds fluttering above the deserted marching grounds. That springtime of 1988 felt like peacetime, a time of renewal.

Around midday Yurik and I scaled the fence and sprinted as quickly as we could towards the muddy alleys of the civilian district. We aimed to put some distance between our uniformed bodies and the heavily patrolled perimeter of the base. We reached Abelman Street in record time. For some unknown to me reason half of the streets of this sad garrison town bore the names of slain Jewish revolutionaries; perhaps not surprisingly, ideological zeal and provincial naivete were co-features of the local municipal government.

Abelman Street was no Nevsky Prospect, but it did offer a few reminders of civilian life: there was a trolley route, a fire station, a movie theatre called Little Star, and a café with the same name. The street stooped down to the main square by the train station, bypassing a brutalist administrative building that also housed a one-room post office.

For me, the post office had a special significance; every couple of weeks, I would leave the base and head down Abelman Street to the post office, where I would try and call my girlfriend in Leningrad from one of the two wood-panelled phone booths that occupied half of the waiting area. Sometimes the telephone gods smiled and the calls got through. On such occasions, Yurik stayed outside and on the lookout for the black-chevroned military patrols. He was really good at spotting them, and every so often his shrill warning whistle pierced the grey concrete and forced an unceremonious end to my static-ridden attempts at wooing.

But this time around we didn’t stop at the post office. We didn’t even slow down. Instead, we marched past the station and on to the depot.

“It’s an American film,” Yurik had explained before we left the base.

“What kind of an American film?”

“Who knows. It’s American alright. Galina told me it was about a dinosaur, a kids’ movie, but funny. She’ll reserve two chairs for us, at a ruble per head.”

“Do you remember the name of the movie?”

“Who cares? What’s with all these questions? But actually — wait. I do remember. I think that it sounds like something dental…”

“Dental?!”

“Yes, something like a ‘fang’.”

“Oh, like Jack London’s White Fang?”

“Jack who? Never heard about him, but yeah, something like that. Wait a minute —actually, no, not ‘White Fang’. It’s a different word. It’s —.” Yurik furrowed his brow and looked pensively into the distance. Then he fished an unfiltered Prima out of his inside pocket and lit it expertly with a match. He took a long careful drag on the cigarette and slowly let out the smoke as a series of tiny shapely rings. Apparently, the exercise cleared his head, because suddenly he remembered: “It’s called Jaws! Yes, JAWS. I told you it had something dental about it. I have exceptional memory for such things. It’s an American movie about a dinosaur.”

About ten minutes into the film I began to suspect that we were not dealing with a kid-friendly dinosaur. It had to be a different, far deadlier beast. There were eight of us, seated on plastic canteen chairs arranged in two rows in front of the TV screen. I did some quick math in my head: eight rubles per screening, probably five screenings per day, would yield 40 rubles. This was a princely sum — about half of the monthly salary my mom earned as a kindergarten teacher.

The owners of the ‘vidak’ knew what they were doing; they were part of a new mysterious cohort that captured the spirit of the time. They had arrived from the future and that future smelled like money. It also smelled a little bit like Galina’s signature meatloaf, and almost imperceptibly like the sea breeze caressing the sandy beaches on Amity Island, off the coast of New England. The moviegoers watched the horror unfolding onscreen in total silence — so serious and set in their determination to persevere that one would think we were attending an organ recital at the Philharmonic. Everyone was smoking, Yurik excessively. Now and then he shifted uneasily in the chair and swore under his breath. It was strange to see him so tense and uncomfortable in these surroundings. In the course of the last two years of our friendship, I had come to believe that nothing, nothing at all could throw Yurik off balance. He was a fearless thug, a seasoned dance floor brawler, a battle-scarred risk-taker, who knew how to hold the world in his cold stare. Nothing could faze my friend. He had never sidestepped a fight. At the age of seventeen he went to prison and emerged from it unreformed in terms of his addiction to danger. Who would’ve known that in the late-Soviet dusk, sitting on a rickety plastic chair, enveloped by cigarette fumes and the stale aromas of the railroad canteen, he’d finally meet his match.

We lasted until the moment when oceanographer Cooper discovered the half-devoured body of Gardner, the fisherman. Suddenly, Yurik leaned into me, breathing hard, his heavy-lidded brown eyes full of angst and terror: “Fuck it, just fuck it. Let’s go!”

I was only too happy to follow suit. On the other side of the partition we bumped into Galina, who was peeling potatoes, dropping the skins into a misshaped aluminum basin. She examined us with vague curiosity. “How is the film?”

Yurik waved his hand, “What film? These Americans are a bunch of sickos. And that’s their idea of a kids’ movie? Fuck that. We’re out of here!” Galina gave him a look of tender concern, sighed, and proceeded to peel the potatoes. I figured she had never stepped behind the black curtain. Just like us, she was not of that particular future.

Outside, we smoked for a while silently until Yurik asked, “Do you think they are doing this on purpose?”

“Who is doing what on purpose?”

“What do you mean ‘Who’? Who! The Americans, of course! Setting up these fucking video salons, destroying our morale, bringing the country to the brink, one fucked-up movie at a time.”

Frankly, I didn’t believe we needed any outside intervention to extinguish our morale. A few years later, Yurik would come to Leningrad on the eve of my impending departure for the United States to say goodbye. He didn’t look all that great and showed signs of wear. His drinking habit was all too obvious. It was a sad and memorable day. By the time I was able to load him up on the Leningrad-Gorky express he was too weak with booze to talk. I hugged him for the last time, since I knew I’d never to see my friend again. As Galina had said: “Trouble, trouble.” She knew his kind only too well.

But that would happen later. For now we were still smoking outside the canteen, exhaling our fear in tiny, perfectly rounded white rings. The light wind, coming from the river, carried off the smoke towards the slopes of the driving range, where the miniature (at that distance) tanks moved across a familiar obstacle course. At this remove, the tanks looked like toys — as if some invisible toddlers were playing war.

“Look at them,” Yurik said, pointing at the distant range. “What a fucking waste of time and diesel. Moving around like some stupid chafers, and it’s not even May.” ‘May’ held a special meaning for us. It was the month of our promised discharge.

At the corner of Abelman and Sverdlov streets we were sighted by an artillery patrol. The officer hung back, but the two soldiers accompanying him gave us a lazy chase. When they got closer, I could tell by the look of their ill-fitting uniforms that they were young recruits, the ‘spirits’ as we called them. We had nothing to fear, as they clearly had no desire to catch us. We trotted unhurriedly along the perimeter fence until we reached a convenient spot to climb over it. Our two pursuers, now out of their officer’s field of vision, paused and motioned to us, indicating their preference to see us escape.

Yurik’s mood had apparently brightened. “Poor fuckers,” he pointed his chin in the direction of the stationary patrol. “Black-striped, but still good guys despite this obvious handicap. And the saddest thing is that we’re almost free, and they got another two years of bullshit ahead of them.” We smiled knowingly at each other, waved a thank-you at the recruits, and approached the fence. It was a spring like no other, the last spring of service. The snow had almost entirely melted and only remained in darkened dirty patches along the banks of the river and by the tank tracks of the driving range. The Cold War was drawing to an end and its history’s last chapter was upon us. Only we didn’t know it. Not yet.

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Maxim Matusevich has published extensively as a historian, but in the last few years has also begun to write fiction – mostly in English, but occasionally in his native Russian. His short stories, essays, and a couple of novellas appeared in the Kenyon Review, New England Review, the Bare Life Review, Transitions, San Antonio Review, MumberMag, Anti-Heroin-Chic, BigCityLit, the Wild Word, Foreign Literary, ReLevant, East-West Literary Forum, and a number of other publications.

Letter from the editor. Darcie Friesen Hossack

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Even as we present this, our Pandemic Issue, the attention of WordCity Literary Journal’s editors is very much turned towards Ukraine. Our hearts are with her people and her president, united in hope for peace, freedom and continued democracy. Our May 2022 issue, featuring a human rights theme, will be presented in honour of Ukraine. Our call for manuscripts may be found Here. Please join us as we stand in solidarity as a creative community of writers and readers.

Until then, in this issue, we look at the first two years of the Covid-19 pandemic and offer our gratitude to contributing writer and poet Anjum Wasim Dar for suggesting it was time.

In two years, we have seen the world unite and divide. We have seen lost lives and livelihoods. The loss of common ground and the relationships that once stood upon it. We’ve seen life-saving vaccines and truck drivers storm Capital cities in protest against them.

One of our poems this month is from Bob Rae, Canada’s Ambassador to the United Nations, who speaks directly to those drivers and the horns they blared for three weeks in our Capital, Ottawa. A short story by Sylvia Petter, meanwhile, gets in the middle of a group of protestors, and Olga Stein examines how WordCity Literary Journal came to exist just months after Covid-19 circumnavigated the globe.

In our Literary Spotlight, although not directly about the virus, we find Sue Burge in conversation about Poetic Prescriptions for what ails us, and I hope you find, as I did, that it is a salve for our times.

All three of the above women are editors here at WCLJ, and together with Clara Burghelea, Nancy Ndeke, Geraldine Sinyuy, Lori Roadhouse and myself, the issues we’ve created so far have been our way of pouring light and literature into the darkness that has been the world’s collective experience these last two years. I am grateful the time, talent and friendship of every one of them, and for every single contributor and reader who has made WordCity their literary home.

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Darcie Friesen Hossack is a graduate of the Humber School for Writers. Her short story collection, Mennonites Don’t Dance (Thistledown Press), 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 LA Crete 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 Lightning), Darcie is now completing her first novel where, for a family with a Seventh-day Adventist father and a Mennonite mother, the End Times are just around the corner. 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, an international award winning chef.

WordCity Literary Journal is provided free to readers from all around the world, and there is no cost to writers submitting their work. Substantial time and expertise goes into each issue, and if you would like to contribute to those efforts, and the costs associated with maintaining this site, we thank you for your support.

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