Singing in Mariupol

a poem in five parts


Dark Matter

Yevgenia’s Diary

Kobzar Taras


New Matter

Dark Matter

From the beginning of things
there has been a dark force
lurking the other side of time.
A hinterland
to the kingdom of things,
a vast underpinning
minus the substance,
an unattached shadow
with the deepest of consequences.

By the laws of physics
it is inferred merely,
an untraceable presence,
a sworn stranger.


From the beginnings of thought
there has been a dark force
at frightening variance
with the light of living.
The cleanliness of
a living breath
is steeped in discolour,
all too visible.
What cruelty is to hand?

By the laws of ethics  
the means to undo
a sworn stranger
has grown merely.

Yevgenia’s Diary

Bodies littered the ground, black eyes staring back at horrified children

people were drinking water from puddles

many were unable to cry

I shall remember Anastasia
a 19-year-old student shot and killed
taking food and aid to the beautiful city of Chernihiv
now the bus, once white, now black from fire and bullet-holes
lies buckled on the road

Kyiv is burning

on the banks of the Dnieper the forest is on fire
the airport too, the houses, shops, apartment block

and round the flames a circle of silence

there are moments of death-visitation
in the mind, of being too tired
to be awake any longer to the message of the sky
to the inhumane voice, to this weather

I shall lie down on a forest path and let it come to me


but for now to face the nightmare of the day . . .
this kindly day . . .

I recall the animated words of Kirill
a young artist on the nightclub scene
of Kyiv, that “everything happening now
is a great beauty. People are acting better than usual,
and our country . . .”

everyone’s looking at their phones
the tight narratives of the news cycle
which only testify to the words that are missing

in this heap of broken shells we call a city
people are scouring it, keeping it clean
while many, too, are saving scraps
to feed zoo animals, abandoned pets

but the noise, the noise, white flashes at night
the sirens howling – where shall I sleep that is safe? –

Someone has given this war permission.
The world has allowed it.


pieces of walls are bitten off as if from an apple
yet even as the very idea of a house is in question           
Aleksei opens his café as a birthday present to himself
and I taste a glorious coffee

and an elderly woman in a headscarf
and carrying a rose recites her poem on the war, on all wars

its melody adds music to the point
that evil cannot win

such tenderness is everywhere

I take a picture of my mother’s snowdrops in the yard

and I find a video clip on my phone
a young Russian soldier is crying, crying
he operates a Grad multiple-rocket launcher
but now wants to apologise to his daughter
as he may have killed children in Ukraine.

Kobzar Taras

Taras, is it you? A spirit
fires the land, inspires the land
to rise. The patriotic heart
it was your lot to inherit
through serfdom and through orphanhood,
through exile, penal colony,
and through such gifts of art as would
allow the world to understand
a country’s right to be – that ire
against the Dark Realm’s felony –
that scathing art, that heart of fire,
that song, that wit, that festival
of fury and of love, that soul
that lived to make our country whole
is with us now. All through the land
a spirit blazes. More than all
the gift is of your personhood.

Go to the Dnipro
my friends, my friends’ children
there you can hear me
there you can see me
then wait by the Dnipro
by this holy river
this river of ages
and say your name once to me,
so I shall pause
all the shapes of the stream
all the shades of the day,
and Nature will draw on them
for your true likeness…
and you shall have always
a portrait by Taras.

He sketched then he scribbled,
an art-child in serfdom…
then compelled with his paintings,
till friends bought his freedom.
But those scribblings, those poems!
That blitz, that tsar-baiting!
Those rifle-shots, those rhythms!
With a sweet understating
of love for his country
through the aura of old tales…
so he honoured the fight
and remembered the trials
of Cossack and of peasant…
so he fought for those slain
on the cruel road to freedom.
So he lived for Ukraine.

Go to the steppe-land
my friends, my friends’ children
in the wild grass, the broad air
what voice is it speaking
go to the forest
in the ancient dark greening
what words rise and cluster
stand in the free air,
hear the light shades, the dark shades
of the land’s music
you have borne witness
now say your name once to me,
Nature will link us…
and you shall have always
a poem from Taras.

Taras Shevchenko, is it you?
A blind musician is at hand
whom no-one knows. He roams the land
playing his stringed instrument,
and singing softly of old wars.
A kobzar, a blind minstrel who
goes here and there, and knocks on doors,
to sing and play. Our land is rent
by a monster from the skies. Our breath
is hard to catch. We think of death
even as the day thrills to the dawn…
Ah, what great strength is born, re-born!
What spirit from the past has sent
a blessing over all the land
even now in 2022?
Taras Shevchenko, is it you?


Darkness. I too,
a mere writer,
old, wedded
ever more nearly
to the unknown,
speak as if
from under cover,
under a fold
of blindness.

I can hear
a faint clear sound,
like bells

it is the name of a city ringing
and I shall hear it (something tells me)
even as I come to the end
of the show


When the tick-tock trick
when the magician’s-cape of the sky
when the twirl of words itself is on the way out
it may be, I shall see and hear a girl singing

We were born at a great hour
from the fires of war and the flames of the fire
and here we go in the battle of life.

Hard and strong, unbreakable as granite
because weeping has not given freedom to anyone yet,
we do not want fame or reward.

Enough of ruin and disagreement.
Brother against brother must not go into battle.
Under the blue and yellow flag of freedom

Let us unite our people!
Fatherland, be faithful!
Ukraine above all for us!

In the steelworks in Mariupol a combat medic
sings in the darkness of a bomb shelter
gun in hand, smiling in the last defence
of Mary’s city

in the centre of hell a haven of peace

softly Kateryna sings in the Azovstal steelworks,
a 21-year-old student of music and motorbikes
and I honour her. Is it wrong or right
to celebrate a gun-scene, a video-clip of war?

I only know, in an imperfect world
to breathe the name of freedom is everywhere a right
and as the song goes in the dark
‘the great truth is the same for all’

and I shall treasure a piece of sound and light


and take it as I go into the night.

New Matter

From the beginning of things
in the human skull,
from the first stirrings
in the dark treasure-box,
an instinct has glittered
for power.
The rule of riches
states an unequalled

What dark universe
is withheld from the light?

What law may be later
discovered, to let in
a fragile reforming,
a new beginning?
What variant in the set-up,
what principle of new power,
what upset will allow
a crack to peep through?


Might it be merely
the shock of a system
(despite its world-mutterings)
at the anomaly
of an old-time tyranny?


Or could it be – could it be –
the witness of wonder
at the courage of one land?

– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –


Part 2 is culled from the online diary of Yevgenia Belorusets. Part 3: Taras Shevchenko (1814-1861), artist and national poet of Ukraine, named his first book of verse ‘Kobzar’. The word (short o) means an itinerant Ukrainian bard, often blind; and Shevchenko is sometimes referred to as Kobzar Taras. (Thanks are due to Vera Rich’s translations.) Part 4 carries an abbreviated version of a national marching song Kateryna Ptashka (as she is known) was recorded singing in the last days of Mariupol’s resistance.

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