• Read Stanislav Belsky’s Poems of
    Wartime Kyiv

    “We are moving to a new office / we will be packed, like herring, / into separate boxes...” Translated by Olga Mikolaivna

    Stanislav Belsky’s poems are haunting, reminiscent of stepping into someone else’s nightmare—there’s no escape. In these poems, written amidst Kyiv’s wartime reality, one simply continues through the day with an acceptance, but certainly not a surrender, often finding glimmers of the marvelous in the terror of the day and night.

    If this nightmare seems all too real and inescapable, it’s because it absolutely is, having manifested itself in the form of war, or at times as a surveilled workplace, a symptom of unbridled capitalism emergent in the last twenty years—just to name a few particulars.

    Belsky, a Russian-language Ukrainian poet, originally from Dnipro and currently in Kyiv, boldly addresses Joe Biden,

    dear president biden
    it is time to acknowledge russia
    as a terrorist country
    without fear of repercussions

    ending his open call with, “in resistance the bush of significance was left as before / not a reminder, but objectively, toska,” situating us right back where we started: dreamlike matter. Toska, a word rendered untranslatable by Russian speakers, is evoked by Vladmir Nabokov as, “a sensation of great spiritual anguish, often without any specific cause… a dull ache of the soul, a longing with nothing to long for, a sick pining, a vague restlessness, mental throes, yearning.” In Belsky’s poems, toska is somewhere in between the past and the present. Perhaps it is toska which permeates his poetics with a ruefulness, that glimmer in the night, a space between reality and the uncanny.

    In translating Belsky’s work I have attempted to preserve the rhythm of the original, the fragmented surrealism of its content and form. His lines often consist of a solo word suspended in time, isolated. Enjambment and singular bodies seem to be Belsky’s poetic language. A startling example is:

    to slide a look
    into the elegant shoes of

    “Uncomfortable” and “emptiness” are left to their own volition, bestowing the lines with a slight autology.

    Unlike English, Russian does not use articles and it is often that I forgo these said articles to sustain a rhythmic demeanor, and in turn, imbue the translation with something a tad off, a slight discomfort, as though the nouns themselves refuse signification, or the specificity of nouns in time and place. I use these omissions to influence the English language into an askance form, tilting grammar and order into a site imperceptible; familiar, yet oddly uncomfortable.

    –Olga Mikolaivna


    боюсь уснуть
    приползут змеи
    упаду со скалы
    случайный прохожий
    ударит ножом в грудь
    (моя поза
    так привлекательна
    для прохожих с ножами)


    afraid to fall asleep
    snakes will slither in
    drops from a cliff
    an accidental passer-by
    with a knife will blow my chest
    (my position
    is so attractive
    to passers-by with knives)


    и немного
    жалко бумаги

    новая плотность

    стеклянный глобус
    робкая смерть
    с заячьей губой


    and a little bit
    stingy with paper
    a limousine
    a new density to a
    clearance sale

    a glass globe
    a sheepish death
    with a
    cleft lip


    Мы переедем в новый офис,
    нас запакуют, как сельдей,
    в отдельные боксы,
    и над каждым
    повесят видеокамеру,
    чтобы, не дай Бог,
    никто из нас
    не повесился на рабочем месте.
    всё-таки будет можно,
    уединяясь для решения
    срочных заданий,
    совсем незаметно
    друг друга любить


    We are moving to a new office
    we will be packed, like herring,
    into separate boxes,
    and above each
    a videocamera will be hung,
    so that, God forbid,
    lest any one of us
    will hang ourselves in the workplace.
    I hope,
    after all, seclusion will be permitted for the completion
    Of high-priority tasks,
    completely imperceptibly
    to love one another.


    Ещё один
    раскрывает передо мной книгу
    волнистых струй
    и шёлковых мотыльков

    Ещё один
    раскрывает передо мной книгу
    бетонных магистралей
    и нескончаемых жалоб пространства

    Ещё один
    раскрывает передо мной книгу
    размытых солнцем руин
    овитых плющом мыслей и гениталий

    А я пожалуй
    закрою свою книгу
    о полоскании горла шалфеем
    и спорах
    с противницами тишины


    opens before me a book of
    choppy streams
    and silkworms

    opens before me a book of
    concrete highways
    and endless expanse complaints

    opens before me a book of
    sun-washed ruins
    wreathed in thoughts and genital ivy

    And I perhaps
    will close my book about
    throat gargling with sage
    and arguments
    with silence as an opponent.


    пустить встречный огонь
    выжечь всё до последнего слова
    думаешь: тёплый день ветер
    но всё фальшивит и тянет
    как пластинка на дряхлой вертушке

    проснуться мгновенно: сам себе будильник
    захваченный чужой любовью странным речным
    пением – не густым но настойчивым –
    мартовским утопленным хором

    и может ли быть ответ кроме обложки из пепла


    to light a welcoming fire
    burn everything to the very last word
    you think: warm day some wind
    but it all forges and pulls
    like plastic on a decrepit pinwheel.

    to wake instantly: an alarm for oneself
    taken by somebody else’s love for strange rivers’
    singing — not thick but an insistent —
    chorus drowned by March

    and can there be a reply except dust jackets of ash


    Stanislav Belsky (Станислав Бельский), born in Dnipropetrovsk (current day Dnipro) in 1976, a programmer in his day job, is a Russian language, Ukrainian poet. To this day he has published thirteen books of poetry in Russian, the latest being Friendly Conversations with Robots (2024). A collection of his selected poem, I versi migliori si sciolgono nell’aria (The Best Poems Melt Into Air), translated into Italian by Paolo Galvani, came out in 2023.

    Olga Mikolaivna was born in Kyiv and works in the (intersectional/textual) liminal space of photography, word, translation, and installation. She is getting her MFA in creative writing at UCSD. Her debut chapbook cities as fathers is out with Tilted House, and other works can be found or are forthcoming in the Tiny Mag, Metatron Press, Cleveland Review of Books, and elsewhere.

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