Pennsylvanian Readings

Serhiy Zhadan


every fish like a political regime
starts to rot from the head
you and I watch our fish dive
into the alien silt on the water’s edge
we look at the nocturnal Pennsylvania
lonesome gas stations and tall firs

distance humbles childish vacillations
and the attributes of former relationships
summer is so far away
rain showers step so low near our words
movements and clothes

lively bicycles roll through the open landscape
military aircraft hang very close to sleepers’ dreams
do you see the morning highway?
we will travel a lot, you and I,
from place to place and from craving to craving


trouble is circling
close to this building close to this tree
the smell of fresh typographical ink
wafts outside our windows
. . . empty streets . . .
black messages on the bulletin boards . . .

a few days of living together
maturity hides behind our careless words
white linen crawls on our bed like a slug
laying a wet mark on the hard fabric

keep telling me about your parents
about your sad mom the lonesome little girl
from the used stairwells
about the things your family tried to hush up
and about your teenage love
go down these stairs
with a pocket flashlight
illuminating your way

the warm feet
of aging women . . .
the shadows of objects . . .
walls of rooms . . .
your blood-carried memory,
a traveling orchestra,
makes reckless movements
and causes your joints’ tiny crystals
to ring, very gently,
inside your skin


this story has its roots
in one street in the old city center
you know, those buildings behind the synagogue
awful sanitary conditions
broken furniture armchairs torn curtains
palaces of culture
all that junk called “Soviet life”

this story begins approximately in the 40s—
new buildings after the war . . .
the development of the “Dynamo” society . . .
development in general . . .
can you believe it all remains
at least time hasn’t yet ruined everything

therefore if you want to treat this story truly seriously
and I hope that’s how you want to treat it
begin right there
get up from your folding bed
find those who want to listen
and tell them

I know when morning begins
an archangel hovers near your window
writing on a portable typewriter, a war trophy,
and the petroleum of love
accumulates in the well of time—
black ferns in the subterranean labyrinths

each year your holidays end earlier
what engines do you need for your car?
what doors will you choose?
what kind of weather will we have today?
how will you feel
after exiting my prayer, Lord?

translated from the Ukrainian by Alan Zhukovski