White snow, grey ice
on the cracked ground
the patchwork of city
in a noose of roads
over the city swim clouds
and block the light of the sky
and over the city— yellow smoke
the city is 2000 years old
2000 years under the light of a star by the name of The Sun
Marichka grew up in Miami— the nickname given to her block off Leningrad Square in Darnytsia on the "left bank" of Kiev.
“Because it’s a drug port. Everything comes through here.” She points to the wall where the region’s pseudonym used to be tagged. Only “MA” remains, “IAMI” painted over with a runny beige fish tank, the favourite pissing spot of local drunks.
A dozen sparrows flutter in the moist sand to get warm; a child in a puffy one-piece sticks out his tongue to lick the juicy red monkey bars— his mother slaps him on the mouth. Unfazed, he tries again— she slaps him again, harder. The clammer of beer bottles as a man stacks them into a cardboard box.
There are pawn shops everywhere like in the early 90s, recalls Marichka. We stop into an electronics repair booth (also en vogue since inflation set in) to pick up a charger for the internet router we brought from Canada. They didn’t have one, but a guy in fatigues cuts two cords in half and fashions one with an exacto knife, a soldering iron, and “celebratory” blue electrical tape.
“You wearing fatigues just cause, or…”
“Or.” He strips the copper wire over a deep blue placemat with showboating dolphins. Over his shoulder, laminated world maps stapled to the wall, the corners curling over the staples like tiny plastic waves.
“What battalion?” asks Marichka. Two old ladies knock on the window with an old hand-held with a sunken button.
“The couch battalion.” He reaches over and takes the broken phone. He looks at it, opens a drawer at the far end of his desk full of rubber buttons. “If you don’t care about aesthetics— I mean if you don’t mind the buttons not matching— I can have this fixed for you in a couple of hours. 50.” The women don’t mind, of course, they just need the phone fixed— they’re expecting a call for overseas, they can’t work the finicky new-age digital cell-phones everyone has these days, they don’t understand how they work without buttons.
2000 years of war
war without just cause
a war of the youth—
the cure for wrinkles
red, red blood
in an hour, it’s covered with ground again
in two, flowers and grass
in three, it’s alive again
heated by the light of a star by the name of The Sun
Outside, we say hi to some of Marichka’s childhood neighbours comparing scabs.
“For a beer, they’ll tell you everything you want to know about Miami,” Beside them, an old guy selling live crabs out of a plastic bucket to a woman with a pink baby carriage. “But don’t— or they’ll never stop knocking on my mother’s door, asking for a drink or a safe place.”
In the corridor of her childhood home, a pool of blood dried up by the elevator from when Aunt Tanya got stabbed for her purse by some guy who snuck in through the automatically locking steel door after a lazy resident. It’s been a month but no one has cleaned it up. The kids tell us it’s jam or tomato sauce in tones that betray their innocence.
Marichka’s mother and father are happy to see us. Her brother and sister come over for dinner to celebrate the occasion as well. We drink Martini Bianco straight (on sale at the super market), eat cabbage rolls and play broken telephone— the only word that makes it through the 11 of us unaltered by misunderstanding or mispronunciation is “cacophony.”
And we knew that this is the way it has always been
that fate prefers he who lives by other laws
and who is ready to die young
who doesn’t know the words yes and no
who doesn’t know hierarchy nor name
who is ready to reach for the stars
who won’t think this is a dream
who is ready to lie on the ground
burned by the light of a star by the name of The Sun
Marichka’s brother tells us a story about a new bus driver on his first day of work who asked one of the passengers to sit up at the front and help him with the route. The driver had the nerve to make the volunteer pay the fare!… this story eventually turned into the fact that nothing has changed, that politicians use the war as leverage against angry voters demanding change while they continue to profit, that the president is one of the founding members of the corrupt (ousted) Party of Regions— remember? we all forget this— that there will be another revolution, though not yet, but soon, in a couple of years, and that he’s afraid it will be with heavy arms. Meanwhile patriots are being put on trial as soon as they return from the front and physical fights are breaking out during their trials. Mass fist fights. If the fights are big enough, the volunteer fighters are let off the hook; if no one shows up to their trials, they get sent to prison.
Marichka’s father places the empty bottle under the table; her mother clears the dishes; her brother picks up the acoustic guitar leaning against the wall in the corner of the room and starts singing a song by famous soviet post-punk singer/songwriter Viktor Tsoi; her sister joins; her son is on his knees on a kitchen stool, his head reaching up towards the light, looking at a feather through a handheld microscope.