The Brooklyn Rail

MAY 2023

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MAY 2023 Issue

Three Ballads

The 1826 Lemberg Catastrophe

On July 14, 1826, an event occurred
that shocked the whole city of Lviv: the old town hall tower
lurched in the afternoon, and at 6:45 in the evening
it collapsed with a loud clamor. The market square had been vacated
earlier, but one trumpeter, two soldiers
and a few workers died in the ruins.

Ivan Krypiakevych, Historic Walking Tours of Lviv

Everything’s already been studied and archived
from that calamitous day the tower collapsed:
“The number of casualties is not that high:
one trumpeter, two soldiers and a few workers died.”

A trifling apocalypse on the market square:
the tragic city of Lviv yawned from despair
like herr privy councilor when reading a dispatch:
“one trumpetorr,
two soldiorrs,
a few workorrs.”

Some candles for their widows, medicine for their mothers,
their children sent to boarding school on Orphans Street.
The wake was crowded with the poor and disabled,
cobblestones echoed the plonk of wooden legs
(and everyone ate and drank and cried as honestly as they could:
one trumpeter, two soldiers, a few workers died).

Buried under the tower, they ended up in storage rooms
where light dies and hardens the blood, where darkness deafens,
while the sea of life roars in the squares and taverns.
There is a different light—and it’s white above the bones.

They descended into the underworld as if into another city.
They weren’t loved on earth and were forgotten among the clouds.
A trumpeter walked in front.
He blew with fervor and precision—
as if he held not a trumpet but a blazing lantern.

But when the eyes of the dead faded like their clothes,
they lay among the stones—shoulder to shoulder,
unstoppable as a spring and growing like a tower,
a secret wheezing signal, the trumpeter’s call.

A Didactic Play at the Bogusławski Theatre

It caused a great stir in Lviv
when one of the actors opened a coffin with human
bones; during the reconstruction of the church into a theater,
they forgot to remove ancient corpses from the cellars…

Ivan Krypiakevych, Historic Walking Tours of Lviv

Dear audience, to bring tremors and fainting,
send a fresh sharp pain through your hearts,
we’re showing you these basement bones.
Ladies and gentlemen, we all stroll over the dead

as we do across bridges. They lie beneath us,
hard as the foundations of houses—
they grow into the ground like invisible lights.
Enjoy the light of these meager bones!

You feel lavish in an opera box, like a womb,
there’s stomping in the balconies—it’s packed, sold
out, you clap your hands so ferociously
it’s as if you’d killed them yourselves.

Ladies and gentlemen, hush!
(The chandeliers are dripping with wax…)
The dead are dead, they won’t mind.
And we’re like lichens on the body of humanity:
hungry, brilliant, and alive.

So save us! And see through your lorgnette
the thin and bloodless skin of these galateas.
Serve us bread, bandage our wounds—
ladies and gentlemen, we all look like people,

having played kings and bloody crown princes
in our faded cloaks, our dreary sacks, let’s go
out into the darkness—come to our evening attics
and fall asleep on the floorboards.

Whispering Across Centuries

In 1885, Franz Joseph visited the Castle once more,
in the evening. The noblemen took him out to a café,
and from the balcony the emperor observed the illumination of
Lviv in his honor.

Ivan Krypiakevych, Historic Walking Tours of Lviv

My emperor, praise to you: our nation’s overjoyed
because you set foot on our sand this evening.
Bright illumination ignited like a heavenly bush,
your spurs sparked silver. You watch from the hill.

Smoke from fireworks eats our eyes, an emotional burn!
The master of ceremonies is sweating, tense.
We’re all ready to die, even, like a peasant uprising,
and tears drip from the eyes of dog-catchers and gendarmes.

(Our province became a garden. Firecrackers and rockets
launched at the underside of the sky for greater beauty.
Orchestras faithfully roared with trombones and thrombus,
prostitutes washed their négligées and powdered their noses.)

Illumination! Orchestra! We shout and play—
the fate of our emperor is like a sphinx, and what will it send?—
plague, fire or war, the dead man in Sarajevo,
so have fun, emperor, you’re still just a kid!

You still have a white horse and a feathered hat,
your power is tight, like a walnut, empire endless,
you secretly hang people, cheat, forge, and scheme,
and where is that twentieth century in which you will die?


Yuri Andrukhovych

Yuri Andrukhovych is one of the most prominent and influential Ukrainian poets. He has published more than a dozen poetry collections, fiction books, and collections of essays, and his work has been translated into many languages. A recipient of various awards including the Herder Prize (2001), the Erich Maria Remarque Peace Prize (2005), the Leipzig Book Prize for Understanding (2006), the Angelus Prize (2006), the Hannah Arendt Prize (2014), and the Goethe Medal (2016), Andrukhovych lives and works in Ivano-Frankivsk.

John Hennessy

John Hennessy is the author of two poetry collections, Bridge and Tunnel and Coney Island Pilgrims. He is the co-translator, with Ostap Kin, of A New Orthography, selected poems by Serhiy Zhadan, Finalist for the PEN Award for Poetry in translation and co-winner of the Derek Walcott Prize, and the forthcoming anthology Babyn Yar: Ukrainian Poets Respond.

Ostap Kin

Ostap Kin is the editor of Babyn Yar: Ukrainian Poets Respond and New York Elegies, and the co-translator, with John Hennessy, of Babyn Yar: Ukrainian Poets Respond and Serhiy Zhadan’s A New Orthography, finalist for the PEN America Award for Poetry in Translation and co-winner of the Derek Walcott Prize for Poetry. He co-translated, with Vitaly Chernetsky, Yuri Andrukhovych’s Songs for a Dead Rooster.


The Brooklyn Rail

MAY 2023

All Issues