contact zone

love fish

the love fish

lives in the large body of the river 

it swims in it like a pendulum 

back and forth and in a circle 

fastened to the heart’s axis 

 

it patiently meanders

from the water’s roots

to its spreading branches 

swims paths that are covered 

with only your traces 

 

the love fish sings

with a frog’s mouth

with an ant’s voice

oh how ugly it is how blind

not worth the slightest mention in the thinnest book 

 

so hungry

that it eats shadows

touches, traces of kisses

on the warm throat of the day 

 

it knows that out of all names 

your name is the dearest

and so

swimming into the deep wells 

it sheds large round stone tears 

falling heavily to the bottom 

through the thick clear water 

 

the love fish

knows

that your name rings

like bracelets on the wrists

of a gypsy dancer

that it echoes like

a bag of copper coins scattered

in a large empty church

or like the sound of soldiers in the square 

throwing down their weapons all at once 

a thousand swords 

 

your name is sharp

when taken tenderly beneath the tongue

it pierces the mouth

and the tip

comes out through the lip 

 

swim love fish

while your big tree of water grows 

while the iron hook in your lip 

lives its quiet life 

 

keeping you tethered 

and tenderly pulling 

ever closer to 

 

home

Reprinted with the permission of Lost Horse Press.

To read more, buy Pray to the Empty Wells by Iryna Shuvalova.

dark morning
(from genius loci)

it’s so dark
the morning pretends to be night 

 

black foxes
lurk among the stars 

 

biting winds
shift restlessly
in their nests high above 

 

dew
bites fingers 

 

the dog-rose
grabs passersby by their sleeves 

and pulls them into the thicket 

into the entrails of the hedge 

bristling with spirits
full of sleeping birds 

 

cold
runs through the fields like a rabid dog 

leaving long threads of saliva
across the frozen land
across the hard lumpy earth
howling
frightened by its own madness
it looks for shelter
even if in death 

 

death
sits
watches over its hovel 

breathes on its hands 

hides them in its pockets 

where it finds
bits of tobacco
moldy seeds
mice droppings 

 

“what a night 

—death thinks—

 a hell of a long one”

Reprinted with the permission of Lost Horse Press.

To read more, buy Pray to the Empty Wells by Iryna Shuvalova.

a mouse
(from genius loci)

you left
but the memory of you lives on 

in my home 

 

stealthily 

as a mouse

 

it runs underneath the bed at night 

clicks its small paws
rustles paper
leaves its droppings in corners 

 

there is no way to get rid of it 

it avoids the traps
that it took me so long to set 

jamming my fingers 

gasping
crying like a baby 

 

wise wise mouse
small old beast
sits in the corner 

for days 

not a movement
not a squeak
pretends it doesn’t exist
its paws tail and shadow
tucked beneath itself 

 

at night it becomes braver
comes into the center of the room 

with a twitching nose
it breathes in the air 

 

the house smells of yesterday’s bread 

wool socks
shower gel
my fears and my dreams 

 

the mouse comes
sits on my pillow
pensively grooming its whiskers 

 

i open my mouth in sleep 

move my lips
as if about to say something 

but instead—
i just breathe 

Reprinted with the permission of Lost Horse Press.

To read more, buy Pray to the Empty Wells by Iryna Shuvalova.

in the bathroom
(from genius loci)

in the bathroom
i wash off our future children 

 

they don’t resist
instead dripping quietly down the drain 

running through the pipes
soaking the earth 

 

finally they are carried out somewhere far 

by a small river
lazy calm 

 

splashing about
among the reeds and duckweed
among the round-eyed fish and meddling insects 

among the sun-warmed shoals and small whirlpools 

our future children
are laughing 

Reprinted with the permission of Lost Horse Press.

To read more, buy Pray to the Empty Wells by Iryna Shuvalova.

a contact zone
(from conversations about war but not only)

what you have there is a contact zone, says ulrich 

the lenses of his eyeglasses flashing
his smile intelligent 

 

behind the window the city is helplessly inundated with snow 

it’s the beast from the east, say the meteorologists
and we believe them
for how can you not believe in a beast, especially one from the east 

 

i say, no-no, what we have is a war
that is I use some other, methodologically more correct term, 

but what i really mean is war,
the one with many names
the most frightening of them being the polite ones 

 

for example, a conflict
a conflict in the east
where something was left unresolved, 

something did not get sorted
consensus was not reached,
the two parties found themselves incompatible 

like an old married couple,
there you go: a conflict 

 

on the other hand, ulrich is right
war is a contact sport:
you step too close to the other
so close that you can smell their sweat 

can hear them breathing 

and even afterwards
when it stops
and you drop your weapon
this closeness remains with you
you have to wash it off in the shower 

for a long long time
scrubbing vigorously 

 

or perhaps what we have is a contact—
like that with extraterrestrial civilizations
because the other side of the front line is like another galaxy 

how dare these outsiders, these primitives, these aliens
kill and die—just as well as we do
how dare they be so human and inhumane, all at once 

almost like us, too
how dare they be like us
how dare they 

 

i’m not sure if this is what ulrich was trying to say

Reprinted with the permission of Lost Horse Press.

To read more, buy Pray to the Empty Wells by Iryna Shuvalova.