Kyiv at War


Western faces crowd Kyiv's underground,
illuminate the holiday commute,
dotted sequential, on big-knotted wire
(wrap it around the pine and plug it in).
They shine like annual Christmas cheer,
the merry green and red lights, blinking
in and out, winking, pages from my life:
her, a leisurely Madison Ave stroll
some summers back, in the heat wave.
The heavy blond child practiced math,
now builds quantum circuits for MIT.
But a wavy-haired Porsche stuck on LA's
four-oh-five transforms, struck by Einstein
Stalin to a cheap-coated tremble-mouth,
swaying in the black fake leather boots
his Red-Star grandpa kicked in Army
while grandmother was raped by the sea.
An old lady chairs reference at New York's
public library by prehistoric, formal ferns.
She wears a fearful expression to work:
hair tight, shoulders flat, chest thrust so,
quoted by Thursday evening anchors
on lonely news-channels, real estate's up
doesn't mean her plants can’t rage or hurt,
(ancestral seeds grazed by saurian beasts),
her fur coat’s sly nod, hung by an open door—
antediluvian clocks and ferns can't wilt
on Kyiv's red metro line, and New York
seems more improbable by the meter.
People shift, stretch, nod, dissociated,
await the sick, wailing train to nowhere,

I've been seeing these faces my whole life.

A garbage bag filled almost to bursting,
gripped in the square-knuckled hand
of a professor I heard lecture in college
about Gatsby and Jean Toomer, and
modernism's futuristic fascist tic—
now bound for Kontraktova Ploshcha,
traditional marketplace of Kyiv's Jews,
while pretty young lovers from Brooklyn
embrace below his clutching, bale stare.
The plastic sack crinkles with malice,
while his other hand, sinister, plies its
secret trade below a Sam Browne belt,
just like home. Demented Maine men,
hardscrabble Virginia coal transplants
in San Francisco, Montana or Texas
European eyes in a melted iron pot,
screeching underneath steel wheels
and corrugated, rusting track, such metal
marking minutes subway clocks prosperity,
dapper urban doppelgängs, redeemed
by morose Ukrainian mongrel clones,
our European twins—sybaritic, hostile
amoral, our poorer, undestined selves.


The president is late. All rise. Tap your antique cap,
Sink your neck, bend the submissive knee, wink wide.
Alexander spears friends for less-hacks jobs, cuts lines,
He doesn't wait, our president. Nor she. All rise, hail
The ram's horned leader, cucked, dirtied, deified,
Reified on coins and bills, for all to see: they said
She shouldn't do it, swore it was an acrid plan,
Who dares laugh, now? All rise, amen, be seated.

Telling us like it is, straight,
lists odd-textured hats:
Felt and wool and silk,
Here's a thinking cap in
purple, grandfather smells
Weak again. The cap lies,
Says pro bono won't work,
Says make me too big,
Over people the system
With administrators. Hats
And caps and baseball brims,
Too many to revise--
Pick your favorite team.
Then: root, root, root until
The band comes home.

Honduras was bad, we cleaned it up
With Venezuelan help, and Mexican,
Who were bad, or were to be—ergo
China, Japan, Africa, Iran, Iraq.
A loaded word, that last.
Like frying onions, or football,
Or clean groomed Vets' Day lawns,
Happy kids and meat-filled pants

Two boys imprisoned by their arms
interlocking, back-to-back, a flag
wind whipped, causes them to look
away, and down--what danger waits
To feast upon their twinned complaint?
Chains nor handcuffs keep them set,
is it their mutual apathy, warm comfort
of another human's soft frail touch
that keeps two shirts plastered tight,
taut against a storm's elemental fury?
Or a more assertive force, an active hope,
perhaps certain backs were made to meld
and merge, cannot avoid doing so, apart—
like Ukraine from Europe. A baby screams.


Partly made buildings loom, antique
and incomplete in the winter dawn.
Grotesque, they seem to me, devilish,
warning against imprudent spending,
incautious investment, misplaced trust.
I wander the morning streets of Kyiv
bedazed, I tongue my chapped mouth,
wetly whistle forbidden martial tunes
blow air before me in wide pearl bursts,
like a frigid fiend from hell's ninth circle.
Below, a train screeches its arrival at Metro
Minska, filled with fur coated, slash-mouth
trembling penitents. No forgiveness there.

Dead construction cranes cage the sky
and skeletal, keep me from the clouds
I once aspired to call my heavenly home.

Adrian Bonenberger is a veteran of Afghanistan, where he deployed twice as an infantry officer with the U.S. Army. His poetry has appeared in The Southampton Review, and his nonfiction work has been published in The New York TimesThe Washington PostForbesForeign Policy, and Deadspin, among others. Along with four other veterans, he co-edits The Wrath-Bearing Tree. Bonenberger's war memoirs, Afghan Post, came out in 2014. And he co-edited and contributed to The Road Ahead: Stories from the Forever War, an anthology of original veterans’ fiction.

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