Ukrainian poets have long connected themselves to the powerful myth of New York, offering various takes on its aura of urban modernity, its problematic vitality. New York Elegies demonstrates how evocations of New York City are connected to various stylistic modes and topical questions urgent to Ukrainian poetry throughout the past hundred years.
Julia PikeNovember 2018 Poetry Feature: New York Elegies
A marshrutka is kind of a bus but mostly a van, and at full capacity it can carry 10 people from Brody to Lviv. There were 20 passengers in the marshrutka that day. Garrard looked at me and got a thin paperback novel out of his satchel. “It will be at least two hours on this shrutskie today for sure,” he said. He stood hunched over the van’s middle seat and then asked if I wanted some pills.
Garrard is a friend who will stand for two hours so that I can sit. Ours is an intimate friendship wherein I can blindly trust the handful of mystery pills soaked in his palm sweat he gives me. I swallowed the damp pills, a metallic taste lingering on my tongue.
Translated by OSTAP KIN
—Tell me about your new girlfriend, about the one
you’re living with now. What’s between you two?
—The air is between us. I just live with her
the way small children live with their fear.
I arrived by evening train from Kyiv, the trees along the tracks slicing through orange light outside my window, an erratic metronome whose meter would set the pace for my three years as a Peace Corps ESL teacher in the village town of Radyvyliv. There would be long camp days with my students stretching into what would feel like weeks, winter flu quarantine days when I would stay indoors to write bad prose until I fell into a deep sleep as the early morning light broke, hours and hours of reading Gogol by candlelight and trying to conjure up some ghost of lunatic inspiration—but in those first few days of struggling to find a grip on the culture, in those first few hours with my host family, everything arrived and departed at a rapid pace. I knew just enough Ukrainian to know how much more I needed to learn, and how little time I had to learn it before I would begin to look like an idiot. Peace Corps had arranged for me to live with a host family for the first month of my stay before moving to an apartment, and I was terrified of insulting these people with my ignorance of all things Ukrainian.