Lynn Strongin in Berkeley, California, after a peace march in the 1960s.
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)
HITHERTO UNFOUND documents
Raspberry tea stains
Flowers alongside death dates. We are not the kind who leave our dead behind
Soldiers in snow.
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
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.
Me to hold my tongue. Newly-established checkpoints in our wedding.
Daniel a coffee-roaster weeks ago
On guard duty, quickly trained:
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.”
READY FOR SOLO flight
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:
my body’s blight.
BLINDING WHITE wheat so the sweet hereafter
But this is the here and now
Where are Aaron’s horizons
Appalachian spring, distance
Blue melting into green,
Breath upon mirror
Morning and evening.
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.