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A selection of poems from Serhii Zhadan's “The Life of the Virgin Mary” (2015). Translated by Na

Psycho Too bad, says he, They’ll level the city. Like Sodom and Gomorrah. His brother is in asylum. A few days ago the facility had been seized. They put mortars in the yard. He visits his brother. They sit on the bench under the apple trees. They look similar – both wearing track suits. Both have short haircuts. But only one has a cell-phone, Even though there is no coverage in the city. They ignore the soldiers. The soldiers ignore them back. When they were children, he was ashamed of his brother. He never talked about him. He never took him anywhere. You know what it’s like to have a psycho in your family? Dad is normal, mom is normal, you are normal too, but there is one psycho. In your family. It means you might be crazy, too. When he grew up, he just stopped paying attention to him. As if he never existed. The way it is when you walk down the street and notice something unpleasant, Something that evokes fear and rejection. For instance, an animal that’s been torn apart. But you know if you don’t look at it, then it’s as if there is nothing there, as if all is well. That’s how it is now – they silently sit together and no one notices them. As if they were not there. You think there are just a few of them who didn’t manage to get out. The ones who lie there like that animal torn apart. The asylum stuff fled long ago. There are a few cleaning ladies who take care of the patients. Old women who worked there all their lives. Six or seven. Not bad for a city of a million people.

Marauder Bad biography. The kind that makes the morning news. His dad froze to death in an empty trolley in December. Mom has diabetes. Trade schooling, incomplete; two years under surveillance. His throat is burnt by iodine. His ear destroyed by heavy weapons blast. What did you dream about all these years? What did you want? Everything he ever wanted was in the local shopping mall. To break in, though, would be like breaking the seal on a Papal missive. I never had enough money, he wrote, to get the things I wanted. I kept putting them off until better times come along. But now I realize better times will never come. You, too, were born here. You know how it is. Repeat after me: Life is cruel and unfair, Life is short and hopeless, Life is joyless and vile. The one who has nothing, Will never have anything. The one who has nothing to lose, Won’t lose anything.

Here no one is waiting for better times. No one distinguishes quiet death from the rest of the women. Good heart, bad lungs. You live with her because you love her. You die because you live with her.

‘Thanks for writing to me,’ he says. ‘Thanks for writing.’ ‘It’s nothing.’ I reply. ‘Seriously. It’s nothing.’

The Chaplain Ihor is a chaplain. He is thirty. But to look older he does not shave. Everyone wants to look older, especially at 30. An age easy to get lost in. It’s a dangerous age. Even for a chaplain. How strange it is to listen to the confessions of people who willingly and consistently break all God’s rules. They burn their skin on hot metal, Burn their lips with tobacco. They smoke in the wind. They are deafened and angry. Cigarette buts end up in the damp grass. Cross, icons, oil under the nails. They switch their cell-phones off and head on to confess. They tell him all their secrets, share their misfortunes. He would not listen to all that, but what can he do. Every sin is like a stone on the seashore. Angry men put those stones in his hand – every warm stone that had been carried in a pocket for so long. His bags are already full of those stones. He barely drags them. But the men are coming and coming, bringing their stones. They give them to him as their biggest treasure. Consistently and for so many days. They finish smoking. They joke. They get in line being afraid not to make it. Everyone will make it. No one will be late.

Natalya Domina is a PhD student in Comparative Literature at Western University, Canada. Her research interests are 20th century Ukrainian and Russian Literatures, memory, and utopian studies.

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