She says:
we don’t have the right kind of basement in our building
I had to leave, one can’t hide in there
couldn’t leave for a whole week straight
men elbowed us out
we were weaker, there was no room for us
in the past we thought about nice furniture
home improvements and such
now we think: our basement doesn’t work
it won’t protect us, it will collapse on us
it’s worse than sitting outside

we dragged our mattresses and pillows onto the floor
so that we could fall down as soon as it all starts
we fell down and lay there

my husband stayed behind. someone had to stay home
otherwise there would be no home to come back to
there may be nowhere to go back to anyway
but still, he watches the apartment
so that no one moves in and takes our things
he calls once a week from some high-rise
where he miraculously gets cell reception
he says a few words and hangs up
I am alive
call back next Saturday

when a four wheeler with a mortar
passed down the street
we weren’t asking who are you
whose side are you on
we fell down to the floor and lay there

on our way to the market
the bullets whistled over our heads
we arrived here with a single bag
there wasn’t enough room for people, let alone things

she speaks, as the August air
enters the room
in the yard
my coworkers are gathering overripe plums
last year these were delicious
but this time around
we missed our harvest
now it’s too late

I listen, and I don’t know
but if heaven and hell
really exist
they must be separated by a journey
in a minivan, packed full of people –
where plums ripen in silence,
where people fall down to the ground,
if so, then we must be experiencing
moments after death

Translated from the Russian by Oksana Maksymchuk and Max Rosochinsky

Oksana Maksymchuk is an author of two award-winning books of poetry in Ukrainian. She is an Assistant Professor of Philosophy at the University of Arkansas. Max Rosochinsky is writing his dissertation on Marina Tsvetaeva’s essays at Northwestern University and working on his first book of poetry. They live in Fayetteville, AR with their three year old son Max Alexander and Maine Coon cat Thomas Aquinas.

This poem was awarded First Prize in the Joseph Brodsky/Stephen Spender Prize 2014

Translators’ commentary

Anastasia Afanasieva’s poem tells of loss and exile following the 2014 war in Eastern Ukraine. It opens with a monologue, in which a recent refugee recounts the situation from which she fled to an interlocutor, and ends with the interlocutor’s own reflections on what she has heard.
The poem is written in free verse, with no rhymes or other poetic devices such as alliterations and assonances. Rather, it’s rendered in a documen- tary-like style, offering striking snapshots of traumatic events in simple, straightforward language. We’ve tried to find an appropriate idiom for the author’s seemingly simple and self-consciously anti-artistic choice of phrases and words in this poem. We’ve settled on an unembellished com- mon sense writing style that one could find in an unsophisticated blog or internet forum. We’ve also preserved the author’s original punctuation, which represents the chopped-up style of documentary reporting and em- phasises the incompleteness of what’s communicated and the impossibility of successfully describing traumatic experiences.
In the last stanza, the inner speech approach generated an ambiguity in the Russian text: the narrator says “I listen and I don’t know” and then instead of naming an intentional object of her ignorance, she starts a new thought entirely. Initially, we thought that connecting the communication of uncertainty in the first line (“I listen and I don’t know”) and the rest of the stanza would make the text more readable. To this end, we rendered the first part of the stanza thus: “I listen and I don’t know // if heaven and hell really exist// but if they do…” However, we then decided to go with the inner speech approach in order to capture the narrator’s insight that no matter how often one listens to the stories of the victims of violence, one will never know what they have gone through. 64

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