admiral – when we came ashore the day before
the prostitutes – learning we had returned from the war
greeted us as if we had risen from the dead
a 16-year-old liked me – I bought her pearls
a fish out of water
I think about it – those were the days

in this hole that they call a port city
in which no one stained their honor or uniform:
ask the merry widows what they would say
ask the prostitute staggering home
I was her first client
but I think – was I?

after the war – after our missions with you
the boatswain who always jerked off in jail
found me in the room with my prostitute
he said: he wanted to be next – filled with lust
when he stopped breathing
I thought he was dead

admiral – do you know what a prostitute’s love means
a love in which neither God nor any sailor believes
but she – a bay which I slowly entered
had no experience in love or war
I held on to her
and also the mattress

admiral – so much has changed – I accept that
we are changed by wars port cities and women
with her – admiral – as they say I reached the precipice
let the guillotine cut me to pieces
graveyard beetles
will discover my body – I know

admiral – if she forgets me tomorrow
if she filters out the memories like a kidney
I loved her body and it will always be so
if the tribunal sentences me to death
tie a string
to my ankles

so that only where the heavenly seagulls fly
she will see the string waving like my body
so that this day– so that she will see then
what war does to men and duties
admiral – boldly sign
my sentence

Vasyl Makhno (Author) / Olena Jennings (Translator)

Vasyl is a Ukrainian poet, prose writer, essayist, and translator. He is the author of thirteen collections of poetry and most recently A Poet, the Ocean, and Fish (2019). He has also published a book of short stories and four books of essays. His writing is widely translated in many languages. Collections of poetry, prose and essay books have appeared in Poland, Serbia, Israel, Romania, and in the US. He is the 2013 recipient of Serbia’s Povele Morave Prize in Poetry and received the 2015 BBC Book of the Year Award. Makhno currently lives in New York City.

Olena is the author of poetry chapbooks Songs from an Apartment and Memory Project. Her translation from Ukrainian of Iryna Shuvalova’s poetry collection, Pray to the Empty Wells, in collaboration with the author, was released in 2019 by Lost Horse Press.

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