The Ancient City's Face

by Natalka Bilotserkivets ● translated by Andrew Sorokowski

Камінна усмішка застигла на обличчі
старого міста. На травневий брук
повз бур’яни околиць вируша
дитини ненароджена душа.

На рівні вікон, де цвіте герань,
попід дахами чути порух рук,
як подих крил. І тінить таємниче
майдан квадратний з неба чорний грак.

Чому не спиш під полотном лляним
сорочки материнської, у шкірі,
м’якій і теплій, як молочний дим
садів, розквітлих на будинки сірі?

Пощо, дитя, так б’єшся в боротьбі
за власний крик, за перший крок, за тіло,
що в передсмертну мить лишить тобі
усмішку кам’яну й незрозумілу?..

The ancient city’s face is frozen in
A stony smile. Along the cobblestones
Of May, past weed-grown outskirts, an unborn
Child’s soul sets forth upon its way.

At window-height, where the geraniums bloom
Beneath the eaves, you can hear moving hands
Like wings’ breath. From the sky, mysteriously
A black rook casts its shadow on the square.

Why don’t you sleep beneath the linen cloth
Of the maternal gown, inside the skin
So soft and warm, like orchards’ milky smoke
A-blossom on the buildings’ grey?

Why, child, do you struggle in your battle
For your own cry, your first step, for your body,
Which at the moment of your death will leave you
A stony and unfathomable smile?

Natalka Bilotserkivets was born in the Sumy region of eastern Ukraine in 1954, and published her first works as a child. She studied philology at the Taras Shevchenko State University of Kyiv. Her first collection of poetry was Balada pro neskorenykh (“Ballad of the Unvanquished,” 1976). Subsequent collections include Lystopad (“November,” 1989), Alerhiia (“Allergy,” 1999), Hotel’ Tsentral’ (“Hotel Central,” 2004), and most recently, My pomrem ne v Paryzhi (“We Will Not Die in Paris,” Kyiv, 2015). Ms. Bilotserkivets’ poems have been translated into Belarusian, English, German, Polish, Russian, and Swedish. Her poem “My pomrem ne v Paryzhi” has been set to music and performed by the popular group Mertvyi Piven’. She lives in Kyiv.

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Andrew Sorokowski was born in Hartford, Connecticut in 1950 and grew up in San Francisco. He has been bilingual in Ukrainian and English since early childhood, and has studied both Slavic and Romance languages. In 1993-1997 he edited the journal Harvard Ukrainian Studies. He has also worked as a lecturer, researcher, writer, and translator. Mr. Sorokowski has published a number of articles on history, and recently translated a historical monograph from Ukrainian. He has lived and worked in Italy and England, and currently lives near Washington, DC.

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