Sunday Poem

The Mushrooms of Donbas


. . . and what are we going to tell our children,
how are we going to look them in the eye?
There are just things you have to answer for, things
you can’t just let go.
You are responsible for your penicillin,
and I am responsible for mine.

In a word, we just fought for our mushroom plantations. There we
beat them. And when they fell on the warm hearts of the mushrooms
we thought:

Everything that you make with your hands, works for you.
Everything that reaches your conscience beats
in rhythm with your heart.
We stayed on this land, so that it wouldn’t be far
for our children to visit our graves.
This is our island of freedom
our expanded
village consciousness.
Penicillin and Kalashnikovs – two symbols of struggle,
the Castro of Donbas leads the partisans
through the fog-covered mushroom plantations
to the Azov Sea.

“You know,” he told me, “at night, when everyone falls asleep
and the dark land sucks up the fog,
I feel how the earth moves around the sun, even in my dreams
I listen, listen to how they grow –

the mushrooms of Donbas, silent chimeras of the night,
emerging out of the emptiness, growing out of hard coal,
till hearts stand still, like elevators in buildings at night,
the mushrooms of Donbas grow and grow, never letting the discouraged
and condemned die of grief,
because, man, as long as we’re together,
there’s someone to dig up this earth,
and find in its warm innards
the black stuff of death
the black stuff of life.


by Serhiy Zhadan
Publisher: Folio, Kharkiv, 2007
Translation: Virlana Tkacz and Wanda Phipps, 2011

Entire poem in translation and original Ukranian: here