In class, we discuss the power of poetry—gilded words rippling through the world, forming a net under us, the fragile tightrope walkers, literary spells anchoring humanity in hope, hope of a moment, or in the swell of history, in the common heart that beats for us all.
Yet, there he is: Volodymyr Zelensky, looking older than he should, his beard scruff not by choice, his pallor a shade lighter than his olive fatigues. His voice breaks when he mentions the number of children whose hearts have stopped beating since the third week of February, and I know he is weeping inside, wailing, surely, like a banshee whose terrifying shrieks wind their way around the world and wakes the dead, the dead who know how this turns out.
We should all be banshees.
Those who will be left—so many of them scattered in the wind by a capricious force, a rough and unforgiving “I’ll huff and I’ll puff and I’ll blow your house down” against the dandelion’s tender fluff. How will they ever go home again? Their homes piles of severed block and dust, yet those who survive labor to brush the war from sidewalks, balancing on bombed balconies to search for fragments and souvenirs of the before-life.
Can that dust be magic, spellbound by courage and grace? When the war is over, will the stained glass reassemble, the red and green and blue jewel tones catching the sunlight as they find their way back to each other? For the sake of the Ukrainians, is there enough
Dare we believe that the wailing child walking alone reached his destination? Snow-suited against the cold and dragging his rolly suitcase surely bought for trips to grandmother’s house, he’s captured-
forever walking and wailing, walking and wailing. Can we picture him eating borscht with his mama later that day? Will the mother of three—one only five months old—live to see them grow? Will they grow?
Might the elderly weather their forced removal, walking bent and heavy over broken bridges? Are they now warm by a fire, not dreaming of the homes they thought would be their last? Will the lines and lines and lines of mothers and children come home to the fathers who kissed them through the train glass? Or will they walk in other cities holding the hands of ghosts?
Yet, here I am, writing poems about war, “high-minded gilded poems,” when I should be strapping a gun to my chest or painting sunflowers on barricades or holding mothers who are losing so much, once again. But I have no gun or paint … only words to offer.
My words are weak. I combine them carefully, rearranging, sprinkling in gilded bits of faith and hope, trying to find a charm, an antidote, a reverse button that will spin us backward. The lines of children and mothers in reverse, ending their walks in their homes and schools with just another day ahead of them. Buildings are again intact, blocks and glass flying upward into place. Fathers are home, too, for supper, their children clinging to pants legs with anticipation of play and stories. Sirens re-form themselves into symphonies. Craters in the fields refill with fertile soil, and sunflowers bloom.
But my words are pale and weak. Each news report erases another line.
Yet here I am.