3 min read

Another Forest Song

Dear writer, Before you begin composing Trace my footsteps on the moss That grows to the east of a tree.

In Tribute to the work of Lesya Ukrainka

ℹ️
Originally written in 2018

On top of that mountain,
They are building a new church,
Hallelujah, Hallelujah,
Building a new church.

On top of that mountain,
My parents once stood,
Mother, Mother,
Why did you not keep me?

A crude illustration of an Orthodox church on top of a steep hill

My sister takes baths
In the river down this road
She scrubs off
The curses on her skin.

Red guelder-rose
Is laced around her neck.
The same guelder-rose
Under which a widow sang:

I grew, I grew like a pine in the woods,
My mother gave me away to a little kid.
I didn’t love him, but he got sick,
Got sick and fell like winter breeze.

Red marigolds
are bright against the snow.
Cheeks of young girls,
Blushing in the night

Under the moonlight, under the moonlight,
On our street with the best boys,
Who break the soles of their shoes
Running to their beloved’s houses.

Bring us gifts too,
At least on Kupala Night.
Drop a garland in the water –
I will dance till dawn.

A scanned ink drawing of a flower garland floating down a river on a wooden panel with a lit candle

My cradle hung from an oak
By a single black thread
I will cover it in flowers
To soak up spilled blood.

They call us goddesses
And try to kiss the grass beneath our feet.
We hide in the shadows,
And cover our ears from prayers.

They don’t know, but
Our songs rupture eardrums
And our faces are covered with holes,
Far too hideous to see.

A scanned illustration of a woman's body in a long white dress with her head cropped out. She's turned away and stepping on a red flower.

Dear writer,
Before you begin composing
Trace my footsteps on the moss
That grows to the east of a tree.

Feel my breath in raindrops
Which never reach the ground.
Gather the flowers that bloom
Under a crescent moon.

Listen to the leaves singing
When there is no wind.
I whisper my story to those
Who will dare listen.

Bring your flute, and I will dance,
Moving on the tips of your hair.
Make paper from the bark of this tree,
Build a pen from rays of the dusking sun.

Collect ink from morning dew on
Freshly bloomed snowdrops,
Collect the threads from leaves of the oldest oak.
Count the rings in the wood that you can’t see.

You whisper to me that you remember
The shadowy forests near your house.
You miss the hand of your mother
Along those sunny trails.

Her voice spoke of magic
And you heard it echo in your steps
When you ran off to the trees
Under the full moon, as she slept.

You’ve waited for dreams
Of music you’ve never heard
And collected memories
Of a life you never led.

You’re writing a märchendrama
For shadows under your feet,
Whispers in your nightmares,
Prayers before bed.

Quand on est bête, c’est pour toujours
Quand on est morte, c'est pour un jour.
A tragicomedy: you seek the philosopher’s stone,
Inserting new languages into your speech.

Yet don’t know whether Don Juan,
Is said with an ‘h’ or a ‘j’.
Salamanca doesn’t hold the answers
Inked on an acorn in Volyn’.

You tell us nothing is schwarz und weiss,
But we’ve never heard the tongues
Of the faraway lands in your mind.
Why do you want to tell our tale?

An illustration of the bottom half of a woman's face. She has bright red lips, she is wearing a Ukrainian vyshyvanka, and her necklace is made of red beads

My sister weeps while I carry her tears
In a сlay watering can.
You sing “und scheint die Sonne noch so schön,
Am Ende muss sie untergehn.

But beauty is a wound
When you wear skins like shoes
And shed voices, hanging up lives
With clothespins on tallest branches.

Collect your songs and come to the meadow,
I’ll listen from under the guelder-rose.
You play with my hair when you caress the wind.
Tell me if my mother’s grave is unscathed.

I would leave her poppies and light a candle
But I don’t have hands to hold them.
I would tell her how I’ve been,
But she never gave me a name.

I call myself after the stream’s murmur
On starry nights.
She only looked at my face
Enough to forget it.

She cried with my blood
And I bleed with her tears.
I cried until the forest
Adopted me as its own.

On top of that mountain,
They are building a new church,
But anyway, I was never bathed,
In any water at all.