Kateryna Kalytko (1982) is a writer and translator. She’s an author of six award-winning poetry collections, the last of which - "Torture Chamber. Vineyard. Home "(Lviv, The Old Lion Publishing House, 2014) - is honored with the "Litaccent of the Year" award. She has also published two short books of short stories: “M(h)ystery” (Kyiv, Fact, 2007) and “The Land of the Lost, or Little Scary Tales" (Lviv, Old Liv Publishing House, 2017), which is now highly phraised by Ukraininan critics.
She’s the holder of numerous national literary awards, e.g. “Granoslov”, Bohdan-Igor Antonych “Greeting of life” prize, “Young wine” performed poetry award, “Smoloskyp” and “Blagovist” literary prizes. Her texts are translated into English, German, Polish, Armenian, Lithuanian, Slovenian, Serbian, Italian and Hebrew. She’s the CEI Fellowship for Writers in Residence 2015 fellow, laureate of the short stories festival Imbiero Vakarai/Ginger Evenings 2016 (Lithuania). She’s the holder of Vilenica Crystal International Prize in 2016.
She’s also a translator from the Balkan languages. For her translations she was awarded the prize of the magazine "The Kryvbas Courier" and the independent translation award METAPHORA.
APRIL 6 /
You are not just sleeping with this one man, but with his whole life,
and sometimes it wakes you up and snatches him out of your arms.
For, you see, war often comes along and lies down between you like a child
afraid to be left alone in the dark.
War, he says, involves many numbers, let’s see —
two relatives equal one sack of bones,
one thousand three hundred ninety-five days of siege,
three packages of humanitarian aid: butter, canned goods,
powdered milk, three bars of soap.
Four armed men come for you,
show you their orders and then escort you out into the night.
During the walk across the city
you hear missiles flying over your head — twice.
. . . Five times they take you out of the barracks
to a ditch where forty-three lay rotting
and each time you think: I will finally die
and tell God that it was a lame joke.
But they throw you face down into the dirt
and take their sweet time pressing a gun to your head.
Since then, he says, I don’t like to dream,
these kinds of memories, they aren’t fitting for a man.
You run through the woods, they shoot at your back,
a bullet hits your thigh but all you feel is this dirt on your face.
Translated from the Ukrainian by Olena Jennings and Oksana Lutsyshyna
That’s when a leafless tree of pain grows
in your chest, pulsating.
And I don’t respond because what do you say to that
I just keep wiping the dirt off his face, over and over again,
even while he’s sleeping,
even while he’s away.
SILHOUETTES IN THE LIT WINDOWS /
They have a rented flat looking on to the prison yard
And an ill child and all that other couples have
Late in the evening when the boy is in his bad and the last dishes are washed.
And the whole town is dozing in silent sugared beauty,
And two live fish are splashing noisily in the washbasin
And a stupid blind kitten is crying somewhere in the staircase,
She sits down and thinks - here, her husband
Leaves Paradise every morning and descends into Hell.
And there all those dirty jail birds are and he has such a nimbus
Shining that she is sometimes even afraid to pat his hair,
It would be nice to go to the country for summer, the kid isn’t well this year,
And the shoes need repairing and I have to cook soup…
And he, while she falls asleep
Is breaking somebody’s teeth
Later with his companion he drinks vodka wearily
And says - I don’t want to go home,
There is this stupid woman
And the kid is ill again. In short, there is hell at home.
MUTINY OF TREES /
And I shall tell you this: these trees will steal our dreams.Translated from the Ukrainian by Oksana Maksymchuk
The local hearts and towns are moist and marshy at bottom.
The trees do not sleep. We walk into the garden, and
They clutch our shoulders with their leafless limbs.
Sharp dark talons press into the thin slits of wounds.
These trees grow through us and do not heal with age.
Because we took their parents to serve our needs,
To make beds and boxes, spoons, windows, and doors.
In a wooden bed with an engraved headboard,
Dark with age and infested with woodworms
In a bowl of my breast I stir up the cough with my ribs
And I say:
Across the garden, through the tall grass
To the river.
But it’s too late:
A boat is on guard at the shore,
Its wooden spine damaged by the river.
I would like to meet face to face the tree
that will float out of the fog,
and step on my breast.
They won’t compose any songs, because the children of their children,
hearing about this initiation, will jump out of their beds at 4 a.m., frightened
by the echo in their spinal cords. Separate parts of death
cannot form a whole: a quarter of fate or of body is always
The map is worn at the folds.
The doors of the house rust hopelessly, you are on night watch.
At dawn saliva becomes poison in every mouth.
All these piles of ashes still have names
and they keep repeating their persistent calls
sharp like panicked bird shrieks, too extreme for a song
about a field torn apart by a hail of bullets,
about the chornozem that God will rub off in his hand afterwards.Translated from the Ukrainian by Olena Jennings and Oksana Lutsyshyna
This loneliness could have a name, an Esther or a Miriam.
Regiments fall to the ground with an infant’s cry.
Words hardly fit between water and salt.
Under the flag at half-mast, hundreds of hoarse voices
laugh, pricked by the splinters of language.
This loneliness is vast, bottomless, and so chilling
that even a stranger turns away. Restless children wander
out of the school, stand by the sea, as if in front of a tribunal.
Dried tree branches crackle in the air like transmitters.
Somebody keeps calling out the name of the city turned into ashes.
This loneliness could be named Sevgil or Selima.
The names of the abandoned are salty and deep.
She comes out, fumbles with the knot
of her black headscarf; her lips are pale.
Who is there, she says, do you read me? Does anyone hear us?
Just a moment ago somebody called out our names.
Do you read me, son, try and listen to me, to me —
they have all left the shore, look for them in the sea.Translated from the Ukrainian by Olena Jennings and Oksana Lutsyshyna
Here September returns to get everything changed.
The fracture is bleeding blackly, thickly, abruptly,
bringing those teachers of yours from the monastic school,
those who’d whipped your childish hands with the rulers,
bringing the pale wraiths of your companions lost,
bringing the screams and whispers, bringing the murky foam,
bringing the girls, eager to skip the borderline
once they’ve broken free from their somniferous backwoods homes
(primarily they want to get rid of the accents.
Grey are their narrow bodies, fishy and lifelessly cold,
willing to get exercised, willing to not mistake
the rules of conjunction between a donor and an acceptor).
Listen, the streetcar insane is singing aloud
of how the birds are leaving Ukraine, flying over the chimney of ours.
So how can we hope
to survive uninfected
when the crescent is scything us all
in a row?
Cotton vanilla candy’s wafting over the town.
Bog is twinkling with light. Count those glimmers, then sleep.
Humping over the morning coffee, my madly perplexed Majnun,
have you already forgotten where were you going to leave?
Here it’s September. Bogs are excreting their green malodour.
Men remain on the verge of a nervous breakdown.
Come, fill my steps in. Slicky yellow light of the lanterns
pours its juice on your shoulders.
Now you have nothing to learn,
highly infatuated forever.
Merely touch the thread on your wrist and remember:
here September returns to get everything changed
over and over again.
Danube approaches, he wants me to give away
a lock and a cramp, and an arm from a flowing sleeve,
I’m more than just water, regardless of what you say,
and I will go on even after you fully leave,
no parting’s a bandage enough for my love’s deep wound,
my light is like crystal pollen that falls in grains,
give me one half of your name and the song you found.
Beware of the serpents, of love and of walking again
barefoot aloof in the snow, of the folks like reeds,
days when a silver eyelash will drop like a tear,
of the man who will bring me milk on a path that leads
through the heart of the night.
Save for that, you have nothing to fear.
Look: here comes the falcon who battled the wind and lost,
from the bottomless sky a feather he drops for you.
Know: the deepest of graves is the song that persists the most.
For my famishing boats give a bit of your bloody brew.
Warm are sins and the loaves of bread, and my oarsmen chant,
through the ribcage an iron hook of Košava curls.
Here a dogrose
bush rushes up through its steep ascent
like a message bearer with flaming blood on his spurs.
Home is still possible there, where they hang laundry out to dry,
and the bed sheets smell of wind and plum blossoms.
It is the season of the first intimacy
to be consummated, never to be repeated.
Every leaf emerges as a green blade
and the cries of life take over the night and find a rhythm.
Fragile tinfoil of the season when apricots first form
along with wars and infants, in the same spoonful of air,
in the stifling bedrooms or in the cold, from which the wandering
beg to enter, like a bloom of jellyfish, or migratory blossoms.
The April frost hunts white-eyed, sharp clawed,
but the babies have the same fuzzy skin for protection.
What makes them different is how they break
when the time comes for them to fall, or if they get totally crushed.
Behind the wall a drunken one-armed neighbor stumbles around
confusing all the epochs, his shoulder
bumps into metal crutches from WWI, a Soviet helmet made of
and the portrait of a man with a glance like a machine gun firing
and hangers for shirts, all of them with a single sleeve.
So they will fall and break into pieces and fates
branches parted, fruit exposed to the winds.
The neck feels squeezed, in the narrow isthmus of the throat
time just stands still and mustard gas creeps through the ditches.
All of this is but a forgotten game we play in the family backyard,
hiding amongst the laundry that hangs outside
the world becomes more fragile at each moment, and when you
through the cloth — you don’t know who it is, and whether you’ve
lost or found.
And the swelling parted body of war intrudes into a blossoming
because we didn’t let it enter our home on a cold night to warm
itself.Translated from the Ukrainian by Olena Jennings and Oksana Lutsyshyna
HE WRITES /
They were disliked on earth and forsaken among the clouds.
Mother, you haven’t sent me a single photograph
so I almost forgot what your face looks like.
You’ll cry, I know, I have caused you distress
but each trouble is just a tiny speck of blood
on a Sunday dress.
Life is a house on the side of the road,
old-world style, like our peasant house, divided into two parts.
In one, they wash the dead man’s body and weep.
In the other, they dress a bride.
Mother, I want you to have a dream in which I come
and sit in the part with more light.
You cry so much mother, you don’t stop sobbing.
I can’t see your face well, but faces don’t matter much,
Your hair, I still remember, smells of cornflowers.
They all want something from us and keep stirring
the anthill of the army, in which the country lies like a rotting fish.
I wrote to Andrew, a long soulful letter,
but didn’t get a reply, maybe I got the address wrong.
And before that Andrew wrote: how he remembers the taste of
the toffee that Dad used to bring from town, also the slippery ravine
behind our house. Peter, he wrote, if we ever return, it will be on
Mother was right — we should have remained fishermen.
Rain drums loudly, mud covers the front lines.
We march hopelessly along rivers and under the clouds.
I’m forgetting everything, as if memories were leaking out of me.
. . . Mother, does that girl Hafiya still sing in the church choir?Translated from the Ukrainian by Olena Jennings and Oksana Lutsyshyna
Can great things happen to ordinary people?
The rotting boards of knowledge creak underfoot.
Now you know, for example, how in wartime
lights pulsate on Christmas trees in squat homes,
how the deadly wind blows from a burning field
burrowing like a stent between aorta walls
how Gaspar, Balthazar, Melchior
rush in an ambulance with a bullet-riddled headlight
how the thick magic forests appear out of compassion for the
prisoners of war
and spread in a layer of peat over the darkened souls.
Daylight, a clawing puppy, whimpers by the pillow,
the light is faint and snowy, snow will cool the faces
and capture them turning into icon-like images
that cut through the heart of the earth.
If there is no warmth
until spring, let this shroud remain.
Was everything, everything that happened, for a greater good
or would all the agony cause a tall tree to grow — bleeding
berries, pounding against apartment windows at night?
Where did you get this glistening moonlight skin, my love?
From starvation, despair, and milk, and mercury.Translated from the Ukrainian by Olena Jennings and Oksana Lutsyshyna
Fifty pigeons have flown away from the belfry.
Mountains munch the thunder, wounding their toothless gums.
Wind is frailly sprouting up from the sand of the spring.
Every battle’s worth loving when named,
every forehead remembers its own broken wall,
every king is arisen from a bone of the master,
every god is buried down in the darkness, deep in the death’s-head.
Words are pouring into the well of a hornbook,
just as whole as that.
Grains of ash on the winkers, trembling;
withered seed of the morning is thrown into the pile to burn.
On the seashore, the black horse is racing alive,
full of ripe Achaeans’ shadows budging inside his belly.
You’d be turning around and feeling the salt in your anxious throat.Translated by Anna Vovchenko
Orange serpent would burn down the church,
as the garden behind your house
would be mournfully weeping
and tomorrow would never be going to bloom;
as the fire would dully be tolling for you;
as your river would seethe with the blood.
Anxious morning would bring disquiet into your dreams.
An enormous snail would freeze on a leaf of the grape.
On the dusty and hasteful station
the embarrassed trains would forebode something like war.
There amongst the crowded strangers
you’d be feeling the salt in your anxious voice.
Orange serpent’ll revive in your heart
Sleep till it does.
Where did I come from that my eyes changed color
Where did I come from that my mother didn’t recognized me as her own child
Where are these strange people in my house from
Where is this iron stew on my plate from
Where is memory of my arm searching for iron from
Where is this grass I can taste in my mouth from
Where did I come from that my dog fears me
Where are the dilated pupils of every candle from
Where is the flour from that is scattered among stars - such a waste!
Where are these invisible children from, crying somewhere near
Where did I come from - I answer I came from the road
where from nowhere I just leaked between tears
Where are the tears from I answer from my memory
Where is my memory from if I don’t remember coming home
from the field from the forest from the swallowing bog
Where is your fear from and why are you stepping backTranslated by Maria Galina
Where is this fiend from, he who has stolen my name
and hid it among grain unsprouted
and buried it in the wolves’ ravine
where is this God-sized hole in the sky from.