Home > Poetry > “I’m lucky my parents were peasants”
Oksana Lutsyshyna
Translated from the Ukrainian by Askold Melnyczuk and Oksana Lutsyshyna
Published: Thu Aug 8 2019
Art: Andrea Chung
“I’m lucky my parents were peasants”

I’m lucky my parents were peasants
sturdy stock and stout bones
had they been like me, they wouldn’t have made it
had they been like me, I wouldn’t be here

on roads where ashes roil with dust
where bodies bloom in the rain
where the dead blossom of youth
froze for days, and for a few hours

no one was old,
the world was all wounded youths
why did my grandparents survive, why?
was it because they felt the burden of generations

of the unborn, of those to come
in five, in thirty, in fifty years?
. . . and those who died, they were like
pruned branches, light and free

. . . and only on my father’s side
the cancer of legacy
women’s tears like women’s fists
proud heads which always fall first

these were women unused to standing for long
because the veins on their legs exploded
who were unable to weep long hours
without going blind, or mad

you had to know how to do everything
tend wounds bake bread dig trenches
nobody taught them
they had to learn for themselves

and they wrote poems—not like before
shorter now, nearly wordless
because they no longer had metaphors
only the clay and the sun

Oksana Lutsyshyn, a Ukrainian writer and poet, is the author of several books of fiction and four books of poetry. A chapbook of poems in English translation is forthcoming from Arrowsmith Press this fall. She is lecturer in Ukrainian Studies at the University of Texas at Austin. (updated 8/2019)

Askold Melnyczuk is the founding editor of AGNI and contributes a series of essays called “Shadowboxing.” He is professor of creative writing at UMass Boston. Excerpts from his anti-memoir in progress have appeared recently in The Threepenny Review and Epiphany. The Epiphany excerpt, “Turbulence, Love,” was cited as Notable in The Best American Essays 2010. His third novel, The House of Widows (Graywolf Press), won the Editor’s Choice Award from the American Library Association as one of the outstanding books of 2008. His second novel, Ambassador of the Dead (Counterpoint, 2001) was called “exquisite, original” by The Washington Post, and his first, What Is Told (Faber and Faber), was a New York Times Notable Book for 1994.

In 1997 Melnyczuk received a Lila Wallace-Readers’ Digest Award in Fiction. Winner of the McGinnis Award in Fiction, he has also been awarded grants from the Massachusetts Cultural Council in fiction, poetry, and nonfiction. He has published stories, poems, translations, and reviews in The New York TimesThe NationThe Partisan ReviewGrand StreetPloughsharesPoetry, and The Boston Globe. His poems have been included in various anthologies, including The McGraw-Hill Book of PoetryLiterature: The Evolving Canon, and Under 35: The New Generation of American Poets. He has edited three volumes in the Graywolf Take Three Poetry Series, as well as a volume of tributes to Father Daniel Berrigan and a livre d’artiste on painter Gerry Bergstein. He also coedited From Three Worlds: New Writing from Ukraine.

He previously taught at Harvard University, the graduate Bennington Writing Seminars, and Boston University, where he edited AGNI until its thirtieth anniversary year in 2002. A research associate of the Ukrainian Institute at Harvard, he has served on the boards of the New England Poetry Club and PEN New England and has been a fellow of the Boston Foundation. In 2001 he received PEN American Center’s biennial Nora Magid Award for Magazine Editing as well as PEN New England’s “Friend to Writers” Award.

Melnyczuk founded AGNI in 1972 as an undergraduate at Antioch College. (updated 9/2018)

See him interviewed on New England Authors.

Oksana Lutsyshyn, a Ukrainian writer and poet, is the author of several books of fiction and four books of poetry. A chapbook of poems in English translation is forthcoming from Arrowsmith Press this fall. She is lecturer in Ukrainian Studies at the University of Texas at Austin. (updated 8/2019)
Back to top