The Brooklyn Rail

MARCH 2023

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MARCH 2023 Issue



Words, some kind of remark

Left my lips unexpectedly

Through the prismatic tedium

That comes before surrender

Didn’t feel like words

More like liquid seeping out

Or the way a bubble forms

On a whisper

Weary with importance

Everything that happens is like that lately

When I start to talk to things and they stir

The water wrinkled when I entered it

Just like everything else

What have I done? wrinkling everything

The Unbearable Witness
in memory of Mykola Hohol

It’s because I long to be taken out of my salty body

that I watch the tumult and largo of life
from inside out

How bizarre it is
stuffed in this yellowish sheath

They want to put me in
with the shrunken heads

Body prefers to live on a dime
It’s scared

The real “me” is omni-peek-a-boo
I remember only some of it
There was a couth kind of intimacy

Made everything gurgle and buoy up
You could feel it from in between your legs
like lightbulbs, merely out of happiness

or a rapport so uninhibited
toward everything

When we become the featherless chick
gagging on berries
stretched toward mother
It divines the aspic of all things
binds whatever stirs in the commotion
Hence the wiggle when I greet people

And then, I didn’t know
enough about life
to want to defend it

I remember loving a thing so much
I wanted to kill it

I was beaten and ridiculed
and learned how to be that way

It was like punching myself in the face

My right eye saw
my left eye
My third eye
was a wart
on the back of my head

To my surprise, they demanded
I bend over and lift my skirt,
checked to see if I had a tail—

the dead giveaway

Poor Translation

In the beginning there was the word
Then the emoji
Then clairvoyance

Then something soft and whole as
Merengue, easy to mold
And you can carve it

When they discovered my tail
They didn’t make me do anything ever again
They shut their doors

This could mean it is “acceptable” or “in practice” or “filed”
Just because people blow their noses at the table
Doesn’t make it acceptable

In many places you are thrown in jail for less than that
For instance, painting your fingernails blue and gold

The peace you feel after storms of abuse
There’s no peace, ever, what are you saying
Only the edge of another storm

Everybody knew the KGB wore white socks to identify one another
They would wear a dark suit but still put on white socks
And the pants were too short. They looked ridiculous

If you ever saw a flock of geese tiptoe on thin ice

There Are No Parades in the Gulag

Maestro always goes to bed with clean feet
And there’s a special towel for that
When he turns over on the sofa it looks like a big black crow
Just flew in through the window, I have to duck
When I wake up in the middle of the night and he’s not there
I feel I’m falling off a raft swaying on endless sea
When Maestro reads (Gabriel Marquez)
His lips move like a fish nibbling on coral
Picking up microscopic morsels of syllables
My heart sinks with adoration, it’s just hopeless, the beauty of beauty
Maestro always knows how much money is in his wallet
And he has a fine leather wallet, supple as a rose petal
I feel sorry for him that he is forced to use money
It causes many inconveniences, does not enhance him at all
Often he is seduced by little unnecessary things like bug tape
The first time Maestro ate a banana he was 25 years old
They just didn’t have them in the old USSR
But one evening, a pile of bananas lay on a silver platter
At a State reception for the Prime Minister of Canada
Maestro had performed
Luckily he knew how to eat the banana because
He had seen apes do it on TV
When Maestro smiles wide you can see
The gold crown on one of his molars
He got it back home in the old country
His friend, a trombonist, put it in for him
Maestro majored in clarinet and piano at the Kyiv State Conservatory
Yet he’s ashamed of his diploma
It lists so many subjects on Communism
It embarrasses him that he had to study Communism to become a Maestro
What does Communism have to do with being a Maestro!
It was mandatory to read Hegel and Feuerbach, Lenin, Marx, Engels
2nd year: Dialectical Materialism
You know where dualism starts? In your crack
That’s what they used to say behind the professor’s back
3rd year: Historical Materialism
4th or 5th year: Scholarly Communism
You simply couldn’t graduate without passing the Communist exams
On principle he refused to study those subjects
And Maestro was an honored student, second in his class
Top student had other principles, he studied hard for the Communist exams
Played clarinet with lush precision but scant soul, so they said
Quite a remarkable alcoholic, too, clobbered a cop badly one time
Was sent to jail for it, seems to be a habit now
Though, he still performs at the opera house if he’s not behind bars
Another odd thing about the old USSR
It never rained during a parade
They sent planes up to disperse the clouds

Survival Lesson

Jazz was illegal in the USSR
The crime: It was bourgeois
Bourgeois was a crime

That’s fantastic, actually

But caviar was not a crime
Everyone ate it

Spoonfuls of it like porridge
It was affordable back then
Or you got it somehow on the sly

Yoga was a crime
Poems written in Ukrainian were a crime
Martial arts was a crime

Praying was a crime: Curtains were drawn when people lit a candle
to pray in their homes or observe a religious holiday,

practice yoga or meditate—most everything good for you was a crime

Toil, though, was legal and worthy of worship—that was the motto
throughout the Soviet Union of 15 republics:

Слава Tруду! Glory to Toil! (give me a break)

Everyone knew the country was run by a bunch of degenerates

Lenin declared: Loot the looted

So people stole and bribed, which was almost legal because everybody did it

You were taught how to steal, it was expected of you

You were also taught hyperbole, because you relied on it when you got a job
which you were meant to glorify

Everyone knew it was all a masquerade, except the executions


Lila Dlaboha

Lila Dlaboha is a poet born of Ukrainian immigrants on the Lower East Side of Manhattan. She was short-listed for the Poetry International Prize 2021, and is a 2018 finalist, for her full-length manuscript, in the Marsh Hawk Press Poetry Prize judged by Jane Hirshfield. Her prose pieces have appeared in Arrowsmith, an online literary quarterly out of Boston, and Ukrainian-American Poets Respond, an anthology of works in answer to Russia’s war on Ukraine. Her poems have appeared in Arts & Letters (Georgia College), Bellevue Literary Review, Mudfish, Andre Codrescu’s Exquisite Corpse, Lungfull, among other publications. During the 1980s she served on the editorial board of the Little Magazine, a nationally distributed literary quarterly. On and off since 2016 she has been volunteering with kids and teens in the war zones of eastern Ukraine under the auspices of the Ukrainian NGO GoGlobal/GoCamp. She lives in New York City.


The Brooklyn Rail

MARCH 2023

All Issues