— after Vasyl Stefanyk (1871-1936) Ukrainian prose writer, political activist
Remember your village of always uphill,
a water-warped leather neck-strap,
the cramped wagon with an oak shaft.
Remember dirt, hunks of manure
flecked with feather and bone,
dust settled on the road before sunrise—
your horse hitched to your nearside—
you, a saint, tied to a breast collar of rope,
forever carrying light on your back.
Bulging veins, engirded chains of blue steel,
your forehead swelled—
human sweat, animal sweat.
If a thistle penetrates your foot—so what?
Blessed is that washed with saliva.
Blessed is the pinch of salt
buried in a wake of hoofs.
Remember it for its silence
the hill where you staked
your life—stacked stones
into a cross, carved your name
into its old silt surface,
tiny phosphorous stars—
You knew no other marriage,
no other stony eyes.
Cup your hands—
press them to your lips:
at times a deep-water wave uproots
a rock and washes it ashore, it remains
lying there heavy and inert.
From the rising and setting sun
it beholds the lively water and grieves that it no longer
bears its burden—