Home > Poetry > A Definition of Poetry
Translated from the Ukrainian by Michael M. Naydan
Published: Thu Oct 15 1992
Diego Isaias Hernández Méndez, Convertiendse en Characoteles / Sorcerers Changing into Their Animal Forms (detail), 2013, oil on canvas. Arte Maya Tz’utujil Collection.
A Definition of Poetry

Translated from the Ukrainian by Michael M. Naydan

I know I will die a difficult death—
Like anyone who loves the precise music of her own body,
Who knows how to force it through the gaps in fear
As through the needle’s eye,
Who dances a lifetime with the body—every move
Of shoulders, back, and thighs
Shimmering with mystery, like a Sanskrit word.
Muscles playing under the skin
Like fish in a nocturnal pool.
Thank you, Lord, for giving us bodies.
When I die, tell the roofers
To take down the rafters and ceiling
(They say my great-grandfather, a sorcerer, finally got out this way).
When my body softens with moisture,
The bloated soul, dark and bulging,
Will strain
Like a blue vein in a boiled egg white,
And the body will ripple with spasms,
Like the blanket a sick man wrestles off
Because it’s hot . . .
And the soul will rise to break through
The press of flesh, curse of gravity.
The Cosmos
Above the black well of the room
Will suck on its galactic tube,
Heaven breaking in a blistering starfall,
And draw the soul up, trembling like a sheet of paper—
My young soul—
The color of wet grass—
To freedom—then
“Stop!” it screams, escaping,
On the dazzling borderline
Between two worlds—
Stop, wait.
My God. At last.
Look, here’s where poetry comes from.

Fingers twitching for the ballpoint,
Growing cold, becoming not mine.

See what's inside AGNI 36

Oksana Zabuzhko, a contributing editor of AGNI, is Ukraine’s major writer and intellectual. She is the author of more than twenty books of poetry, fiction, essays, and criticism, and is known internationally for her novels Field Work in Ukrainian Sex (1996), a portion of which first appeared in English in our pages, and The Museum of Abandoned Secrets (2009). Her books have been translated into some twenty languages and won many awards, including the Angelus Central European Literary Prize (Poland, 2013). She lives in Kyiv. (updated 6/2016)

A Conversation with Oksana Zabuzhko” by Halyna Hryn appeared in AGNI 53.

Michael M. Naydan is editor of Slavic and Eastern European Journal. He has published a book-length translation of Marina Tsvetaeva and Lina Kostenko and is now translating the work of Gregory Skovoroda for Pennsylvania State Press. (1994)
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