A spec of blood on a Sunday dress

I’ve created here my little space of self-expression. I worked on it. I tried to post regularly, even when I felt tired, depressed, or simply didn’t feel like it. But no space is impervious to life and to death. I couldn’t write anything last week.

Since the 24th of February, I have had these moments of daydreaming when I imagine what would happen if I were in Ukraine right now. I don’t invite these moments. They come by themselves, triggered by sadness and anger. The injustice of it all and the helplessness.

I hear planes flying over Brussels, a constant but minor nuisance of this city, and I imagine what would be like to know that they are warplanes. And to wait for the explosions somewhere at the edge of the city. And then closer.

I sit at my desk with the window open and I hear the kids from the nearby school shouting and screaming, as they usually do in their lunch break. Would this sound so much different if the school had just been hit by shells?

What would I do? What would we do?

Rush into the shelters as soon as the sirens start. Maybe the local metro station. Stay in long queues to get some supplies from the supermarket. Run around like crazy, from one ATM to another, in order to find one that still has cash. Try desperately to reach family and friends.

Think constantly of ways to escape, to get somewhere a bit safer. Feeling all this bitterness at the thought, the evidence that we’re basically on our own. Nobody will intervene. Having to leave family behind and to take up arms, either because I think it’s my duty or because I don’t really have a choice under martial law.

Try to get the sound of explosions out of my ears and the smell of death out of my nose. Rush to help bleeding strangers that lie on the street, looking silently at the sky.

In the few moments of relative calm, think about this surprising possibility that I may not be on earth anymore in the next few days. Think about the far more painful possibility that those whom I love may perish. And that I won’t be able to do anything about it.

This is how it feels like for millions of people right now.

He Writes

Mother, you haven’t sent me a single photograph
so I almost forgot what your face looks like.
You’ll cry, I know, I have caused you distress
but each trouble is just a tiny speck of blood
on a Sunday dress.

Life is a house on the side of the road,
old-world style, like our peasant house, divided into two parts.
In one, they wash the dead man’s body and weep.
In the other, they dress a bride.

Mother, I want you to have a dream in which I come
and sit in the part with more light.

You cry so much mother, you don’t stop sobbing.
I can’t see your face well, but faces don’t matter much,
Your hair, I still remember, smells of cornflowers.

They all want something from us and keep stirring
the anthill of the army, in which the country lies like a rotting fish.
I wrote to Andrew, a long soulful letter,
but didn’t get a reply, maybe I got the address wrong.

And before that Andrew wrote: how he remembers the taste of
the toffee that Dad used to bring from town, also the slippery ravine
behind our house. Peter, he wrote, if we ever return, it will be on stretchers.
Mother was right — we should have remained fishermen.

Rain drums loudly, mud covers the front lines.
We march hopelessly along rivers and under the clouds.
I’m forgetting everything, as if memories were leaking out of me.
. . . Mother, does that girl Hafiya still sing in the church choir?

Written by Ukraininan poet Kateryna Kalytko
Translated by Olena Jennings and Oksana Lutsyshyna

7 thoughts on “A spec of blood on a Sunday dress

  1. You are not far from there. Two of my colleagues and friends are trapped in Kiev, while their child and his wife are trapped here without being able to help their parents. They were visiting. Very sad 😞. I really don’t understand the need for this bloodshed. And it looks worse by the day.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Well, Belgium is rather far from the war. But I come from a country that has a history of aggression from the same state. I know stories from older people, including my grandparents, who witnessed this aggression firsthand.


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