Notes of Solidarity is a new daily series of mini-essays, poems, and reflections on the Russian war on Ukraine by some of Wales’s leading literary figures. Today, award-winning poet and activist Menna Elfyn brings us a poem recalling her time spent in Kyiv with the British Council in 2009. “I also spent time reading at Donetsk University where I spent a lovely week with students devising a Russian/Ukrainian Under Milk Wood with their own characters from various villages from the Crimea to Odessa. How I wish I had a recording of the performance we did.”
The trouble with war is
‘someone, somewhere must sweep up the mess’-
a woman’s gut, the age of man or its
legacy of monuments- The Players,
as my son called them, when we breezed past
a man with a gun on the square in Aberbanc.
Today, the men are in tanks
and I’m back in Donetsk, giving thanks to a statue-
my compass at the crossroads.
I turn right; wave bore da to Lenin,
boorish from his dusting of snow.
But his patrons still peck away peace—pigeons
beat their wings at his crown; restless feathers
whip his blanket to a blizzard.
A girl from Odessa stops by. We walk
to the college and she laughs as I, on tenterhooks,
cross the crystal ice. She, in high heeled boots,
bustles over bones she knows to her marrow.
What bones? I ask. Oh the tombstones of Jews
form the footings so he soars.
And towering tonight, the thought
of how I played on the word Odessa
as it still plays afresh on my mind. Ôd-Snow
I said, will melt to Tes. The sunshine must come again soon.
A torrent of wordplay. The teasing apart
of Ukraine’s second fiddle to Russia’s knack of burying truth.
Pure? The players have found their feet.
Violence waits for something to give… A consonant or two
between deceit and devastation, conflict
and counting corpses or words that held captive:
Donetsk, Odessa, Donbas-
All may thaw to war any second.
Each drawn breath on tenterhooks.
Translated from the Welsh by Emma Baines
For more information on the Russia-Ukraine war, including ways you can help, please click here.
You can follow all contributions to Notes of Solidarity from Wales Arts Review here.
Recommended for you:
Carla Manfredino reviews Bondo by Menna Elfyn, a collection of language poems which are lyrical, poignant, and quintessentially Welsh.