Thank You For Your Tears
Ukraine’s war begins in Romania. The roads on the Romanian side of the border are jammed with trucks carrying weapons. Rockets? Howitzers? Radar? They hide their nationality in containers under heavy khaki-coloured tarpaulin. The trucks give way to a bus with half a dozen poets from Germany, Israel, Switzerland. We’re going to Chernivtsy to read poems. It’s a regular event here: reading poems in September. Not all poets accepted the invitation: times are troubled. We were warned: “There may be no water. Curfew begins at 23.00”.
From Iași in Romania to Chernivtsy took five and a half hours by bus. Finally we got there. There was water. Our hotel was on Olga Kobylyanskaya Street in the pedestrian zone. “Make yourselves comfortable. It’s safe here”. In the morning I was woken by the sound of marching and a drill sergeant yelling: “Glory to Ukraine!” The squad answered: “Glory to the heroes!” There is a Territorial Defence barracks next our hotel. It seems hotel guests are also a military target.
In the morning I strolled around town. On the gate of the military hospital a sign read: “Department of Catastrophe Medicine”. It wasn’t there two years ago. A poster on the park gates: “In the Open Air Theatre we are weaving camouflage netting for our soldiers”. There are a lot of new signs and posters in the town. In the yard of the music school there is a sheet of paper with an arrow: Air Raid Shelter 150 metres. The Paul Celan Poetry Centre has the address of the nearest shelter on its front door. Everything, everywhere is in Ukrainian. It’s as if in this polyglot city Russian has been switched off. The only people speaking it are possibly refugees from Kharkiv and Mariupol. I ask what language the soldiers speak in the front lines. I am told, both Russian and Ukrainian, but at night they all speak Ukrainian, so they don!t mistake the enemy for one of their own.
I drop by a restaurant drowning in foliage, more a snippet of heaven than a restaurant. The heavenly menu features two wines: Pinot Grigio and Chianti. Leonard Cohen sings casually about a thousand kisses deep
I buy the local newspapers. There are a lot of death notices, especially in Young Bukovinian: “The children have lost a father”, “A fine example to his brothers”. The city cemetery is growing to accommodate fresh graves with photographs of soldiers. Glory to the heroes! In the park I walk past a booth with computer games. Written on the wall in big letters is: “Let us help you escape reality”. Should I try it maybe?
In the evening a German poetess is reading. A local Chernivtsy professor is doing the translation. In the middle of a poem she breaks down in tears. The professor is silent, awkward. The audience is also in tears.At the end of the evening a woman comes over to the poetess and says: “Дякую за вашi сльози: Thank you for your tears”.
In September 2022 German vers libre and Ukrainian голoсiння - weeping - came together.