Vertigo in a Ukrainian City (2006)
Kyiv perches beside the Dnipro amid a vast plain.
Sunflowers and wheat for miles, and one long hill
where the fort was built a thousand years ago.
The streets are old, the billboards new, the chestnut trees
in cottony bloom, visible from the bell tower’s arches
at city’s center where two cathedrals face one another,
a statue of Saint Michael between them, patron saint
of the broad expanse of cobblestone and macadam,
cars and buses, trams, women in high-heeled boots.
There has been an orange revolution, they say,
people are dizzy with expectation and yearning
and I, with my acrophobia, ascend the church tower.
Gold domes above the cathedrals—green for St. Sophia,
blue for St. Anthony. Construction cranes springing up
through flat-roofed, Soviet-era apartment blocks blossom
in yellow, orange, even aquamarine. It’s May, and
city surges below. I climb carillon’s whitewashed steps—
the bells begin to chime. My heart clappers hard
against my breastbone as I grip the handrail on the
narrow stairwell, watch one seagull flap above river,
older than any of us, changing like boundary lines
on the changing map of the world.
Your Distant & Irretrievable Neighborhoods
Images on the television news,
photos in the paper, the wide central avenue
where protesters gather, the monument
on the roundabout familiar to you,
an ocean, a continent away, the word maidan.
You give me details the newscasts never show:
that shopping mall beneath the boulevard,
where you bought candles, the exchange kiosk
through which you could never see the cashier’s
face, bookshops and bars where teens busk for kopiyoks,
old women selling tired bunches of violets
in spring and meager sweet buns in winter.
That building in the pictures—there’s a door
on the left, on the fifth floor a coffee shop;
the desserts appear French but taste like
sweetened crusts topped with stale icing.
You’d sit and order only latte. The waitresses
ignored you for hours.
How your legs remember, in the way the body remembers,
striding along that street when it was slick with filthy
winter’s mix or empty very early on a Sunday morning,
gusts pushing the unfulfilled minutes of a lifetime
against your shivering frame. How you recognize where
the Romani women wait, despised and begging, pegging
your foreignness by the cut of your clothes.
Up that hill, a baroque cathedral.
Lining that street, a pharmacy, Аптека,
a grocery store you’d frequent.
It isn’t home, yet you know it,
you dream constantly of neighborhoods
you’ve inhabited only slightly, routes
you’d take from the market street
to a favorite pub still vivid in your mind.
Yet home—home, you barely comprehend,
you ask “how do I get to—?”
You neither notice nor recall the door
on the left or the Sunday market with its
local beets and fresh apples
and when you finally tell me that
the robins have returned, I answer yes,
they have, when I’ve been watching them
flock home for weeks.
Ann E. Michael has spent most of her life in the US MidAtlantic region where many of her poems are set, but she stayed in Kyiv for a time a few years after the Orange Revolution. She’s the author of several collections, most recently Strange Ladies, Barefoot Girls, and Water-Rites. She blogs at www.annemichael.wordpress.com.