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Lynn Strongin in Berkeley, California, after a peace march in the 1960s.

Lynn Strongin

A Selection from Ukrainian Blues

These are the first few poems from Ukrainian Blues, by Lynn Strongin, forthcoming from Ygdrasil Press, Canada, 2022.

We need corridors:

Alone in the grief of breathing.  Nuclear silos rolled out.  Walking Dream Boulevard.

The unreadable pages of sky

In this field, every language is foreign

Every song starts from zero: the snow-ghosts of war


From albino woods

Where one continent shades into another the passengers disagree (Pink tulle, soap bubbles burst)

So on you & me, darling, the cold of the war comes down

We’ve drawn ourselves to full height but even kneeling one cannot at closest range be altered by someone else’s breathing.


Raspberry tea stains

Flowers alongside death dates. We are not the kind who leave our dead behind

Soldiers in snow.

Piano keys

A dark dirge. My internal funeral.

A stark memoir of how power could spin

Love can push a nuclear button: flowers go off, radioactive petals

Letters in sepia script look at that child-scare, two under three with nuclear plant in background of painting and holding their Scare-Bear.

BRUISE: banks of it, snow, ash colored

I consult with the Rabbi on my final arrangements

It would not surprise me if an invoice arrived in the mail

“The Rabbi cannot live on air” a flip postscript,

Says my beloved.

It behooves

Me to hold my tongue. Newly-established checkpoints in our wedding.

Daniel a coffee-roaster weeks ago

On guard duty, quickly trained:

Navalny, from his Gulag watches:

The glass box a bruise upon ash snow, the torture of the hours, no sleep, light ever-shining.

I TOO know the sound of axe on fresh wood

How to write in the face of grief

Its enormity, loss, lapping waves of radioactive water from spent fuel rods.

I wore calico

Now. The death knell for Europe could be ringing:


The greater inclusion of the blind:

The speech was made under the barrel of a machine gun

Exhaustion will carry away kindness without saying ‘I adore you.”


I’ve been looking for you all my life

Beyond the dung a blazing field of wheat blinds our eyes, breaks the heart

Because war is on: out in the open: but the warlord doesn’t own it.

You try to straighten many things:

Right-angle the blankets: this is not bicycling thru Lithuania looking for trees: peace is aborted, besieged. Waving a white flag even. Pleading. Outgunned to no avail.

We cannot have a kiss

Goodnight: a few trains still ply the route to Poland:

Long enough:

Yet I who have been looking for you all my life

Want one solo flight: looking down upon earth without

my body’s blight.

BLINDING WHITE wheat so the sweet hereafter

But this is the here and now


Body bane,

Where are Aaron’s horizons

Appalachian spring, distance

Blue melting into green,

Breath upon mirror

Morning and evening.

Night, when it comes won’t be the known;

The known is breath upon glass one winter morning; frost confirms cold, the last train out of sleep; bedazzlement we rattled swords with oblivion and won.

Lynn Strongin, born in 1939 in New York City into a middle-class Jewish family of Ukrainian descent, contracted polio at age twelve, and is confined to a wheelchair. She has lived in defiance of her disability ever since, for one thing learning to play the piano and obtaining a degree in musicology from the Manhattan School of Music despite being unable to use foot pedals. She attended Hunter College. As a Woodrow Wilson scholar at Stanford University, she earned a Master of Arts in Literature. In the 1960s, she was well known in politically active Berkeley, working as secretary to Denise Levertov, who described her as a “true poet.” She was very close to Josephine Miles, the first woman tenured by the English Department of the University of California. Lynn was an early wheelchair activist in the Bay Area helping to raise consciousness about curbs and access for the disabled. She has published more than two dozen books and her work appears in thirty anthologies. She has received grants and fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts, American Association of University Women, and PEN American Center. Countrywoman/Surgeon was nominated for the Elliston Award in 1979 and Spectral Freedom for a Pulitzer Prize in 2009. She has twice been nominated for the Pushcart Prize. Her poetry glows with creative leaps of the imagination, a playful wildness and ironic humor. Though she is bound by her wheelchair, her poetry and stories dance passionately. She currently lives in Victoria, British Columbia with her long-term partner, photographer Deb Monroe.

—James LeCuyer

— posted APRIL 2022

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