“In the Ukraine”

Here is another poem which has the dank feel of early winter.  It was written after reading about Father Desbois, a French Roman Catholic priest, who has worked in the Ukraine to document the murder of Ukranian jews during the Holocaust.  It was brought to mind today by Hanukkah (another shining of light), and the terrible news of a different priest (a Russian Orthodox priest) leading a crowd to attack  a Menorrah in  Moldava, neighbor to the Ukraine.

In the Ukraine (sixty-some years later, still finding)

Reluctant shovels prod earth;
roots grip hard; growth
took well here,  the ground
not trod by paths, boots,
only perhaps by light feet running on a dare,
and the fine dart of swallows,
a swivel of darkness against blue-violet,
evening sky;
the underdirt unfolds in webs
of stems as pale, as green, as bones;
coarse hair that might have grown too, white.
Men pause, leaning against
shovels’ long-grained necks; it feels
like gasoline coming up,
a poison surely
that must come out, that wants to come out,
still burns.
The priest extends his hand, not touching flesh or cloth–
“this was the place?”
His voice reminds them of rock–worn, smooth,
soft, hard, a color that seems to them indeterminate–
at least, they don’t know what it’s called.
Looking down from beneath wool cap, a looser collar
swallows unseen, then digs again.
Too late to bargain.
Yellowed pages rumpled
like the inside of that non-priest’s collar, the returning circle
of neck, have been
produced;  the prints of names
(letters quavering like blades of sea grass)–
the smudged “A” of
“AVRAHAM,” the terminal H of
“DEVORAH”–have been again recorded.
Dark eyes’ insistence
on having once seen, has been seen.
Burns coming up, those digging
want to spit it out
but can’t, not here.

All rights reserved, Karin Gustafson.

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13 Comments on ““In the Ukraine””

  1. Pat Hatt Says:

    Wonderfully descriptive write, very vivid, nicely done!

  2. brian miller Says:

    gosh what a haunting write…esp considering the back ground you gave…can not imagine that job, but they are giving the names honor that was taken from them eh?

  3. hedgewitch Says:

    Finely sketched in details somehow make the inhumanity and pain here starker–the gasoline metaphor very powerful. We light the candles, but there never seem to be enough to keep the darkness down.

  4. ayala Says:

    A powerful and moving write.

  5. Neha Says:

    A really haunting piece, heart-wrenching really.


  6. Brilliant and compelling, Karin. Such a difficult subject and you give us a vignette that compels and disturbs– seek out Charles Ades Fishman’s The Death Mazurka– I reviewed his latest collection awhile back and was very disappointed, but his Holocaust poems are stunning…xxxj


  7. The story that gets worse with each re-telling, its arc above me all my life, the inhumanity that wanted to go globally viral, the apathy/willingness of people who wouldn’t resist the horror. It’s a wonder any one ever trusts any other person. It’s the holocaust; it’s the horror!


  8. Karin, incredible write. The horror of the holocaust never can quite be defined. Thanks for the reference for Fr. DesBois. It is interesting to think that he has been able to gain cooperation of those people who were witnesses. The fact that persecution continues today befuddles me. Your poem, his work, does cast a bit of light on one of the darkest events in recent history…a fitting remembrance for the celebration Hanukkah.


  9. I liked it… it took me to a different place… and different era… Thanks.

    Shashi
    ॐ नमः शिवाय
    Om Namah Shivaya
    http://shadowdancingwithmind.blogspot.com/2011/11/whispers-fire-faayar-faayaar-dedicated.html
    At Twitter @VerseEveryDay


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