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Oksana Zabuzhko

OKSANA ZABUZHKO (born 1960 in Lutsk) is a poet, writer and essayist, who lives in Kyiv. She studied philosophy at Kyiv University, obtaining a doctorate in aesthetics. She was visiting writer at Penn State University and taught Ukrainian literature at Harvard and University of Pittsburgh. Currently, she works at the Institute of Philosophy at the Academy of Sciences of Ukraine. Her collections of poetry include May Frost (1985), The Conductor of the Last Candle (1990) Hitchhiking (1994), A Second Attempt (2005) and a book of her poetry in English A Kingdom of Fallen Statues, appeared in 1996. She is best-known for her controversial novels Field Research in Ukrainian Sex (1996) and The Museum of Abandoned Secret (2009), both of which have been translated into English. She also writes scholarly books on cultural themes, including the much discussed Notre Dame d’Ukraine: Ukrainka in the Clash of Mythologies.

Photo: Wanda Phipps, Oksana Zabuzhko & Virlana Tkacz during bilingual reading of Oksana's poem

Oksana Zabuzhko's Poetry
translated by Virlana Tkacz and Wanda Phipps
Despite it all... (1990)

Despite it all it was you I loved,



And that won't disappear -- only settle to the bottom...

I carried you with me, a precious carafe -- which I broke --

And the wine stained my spirit, like a tablecloth.

You gave color to my thoughts, and to my images -- a body,

But all that remains is a murmur,

                                    the sea in a shell held to the ear...

... What really happened,

                                    God, it's nobody's business!


What matters  -- is how we'll remember it.

And we will remember it -- as I write it.

Despite it all
Symptoms of Poetry (1990)

I know I will die a difficult death --

Like anyone who loves the precise music of her own body,

Who knows how to easily thread it through the eye of fear

As through a needle,

Who dances a lifetime with that body -- so that each move

Of shoulders, back and thighs glimmers

With the mystery of ancient meaning like a word in Sanskrit

And muscles play under the skin like fish --

Thank you, Lord, for this body!

When I die, tell the carpenters  

To take off the roof

(Because they say,

My great grandfather, a sorcerer, went that way.)

So when my body turns soft,

Gushy like a boiled egg,

A bloated soul, dark and bulging,

Will jut out

And the body will convulse

Like a stifling blanket

A sick man battles with,

But my soul will push through

The weight of the body, the curse of gravity --

                                                and then

As falling stars light up the sky

The Cosmos

Will suck up my soul

Through its galactic pipe

Like a crumpled sheet of paper.

Oh soul, so young,

Green like wet leaves,

To freedom --

But at the moment of release,

it screams – “Stop!”

At the instant on the knife's edge

Between two worlds --

“Stop. Halt.

Here is the place

of Poetry. Oh, Lord...”


For the last time fingers reach out for a pen,

Growing cold, becoming no longer mine...

Symptoms of Poetry
A Portrait:
K.M. Hrushevska in Her Youth (1990)

Katherine Mykhailivna, Miss Kate!

The stiff lace collar

The complexion as pale as a petal

And the imperious mouth, no hint of a child...

The ingenious photographer in Lviv

                                                posed you correctly,

Recognizing Valesquez's Infanta in you.

Oh, Miss Kate,

                        it was before that first war -- it was summer,

It was way before you were in Kyiv

It was way before the dark days of the decree...

You were still studying

                                    Greek and Latin, with your prayers each night,

Scorning your suitors

                        and reading "What Is Progress?"

Oh, Miss Kate --

                        what a hat, the one with the wide brim!

But the look in your eyes is icy:

                        What did you just hear? What did you see in the distance?

How faces change, when a family sees its fate.

Perhaps it is the light from the door that just opened that gives them that other-worldly look...

You are listening to something, yes...

            (Is it a sound from the ground --

That grows

            from year to year --

                                    like a muffled cry?)

To be a Hrushevska by birth -- is a mark you can't wash off.

To be a Hrushevska in spirit -- is an unforgivable sin.

The sound grows?

                        You want to jump decades ahead?

                                                 Through the century?

                                                            But that is an anti-

historical approach -- metaphysics, Miss, a hoax.

Katherine Mykhailivna, you pale and fragile Infanta,

An unknown number in the cosmic archives of the GULAG...

            (The sound grows: is it the sound of your father's papers

            as they were torn and thrown into the stove?

            Or the crackle as volume eleven bursts into flames

            Followed by all the other volumes now missing

            from his Great History of Ukraine that joined him in oblivion.

            That sound: is it the rats that scurried away,

                           is it the heavy handed fist?

            Slam!  that over-educated schoolgirl --

                        that professor's daughter

                        that upper class bitch!)

... Your high school photo

            reveals that icy glance

So, a quarter of a century before

            you already knew the proper response to treatment like that!

Katherine Mykhailivna,

                        Miss Kate,

                                    who became dust,

Not in the camps -- but in the stars: the heavens glow with you.

For all the innocently executed historians of wasted nations

You are the first defense

And the last-standing guard...

Katherine Mykhailivna,

                        Miss Kate,

                                        where is your great work?

The sound grows...

The sound...



Note: Katherine Hrushevska was born in 1900 in Lviv, the largest city in western Ukraine. An ethnographer and sociologist, she was the daughter of Mykhailo Hrushevsky the most distinguished Ukrainian historian and the President of the first Ukrainian Republic when it was proclaimed in Kyiv in 1918. In the late 1920s her father was forced by decree to move to Moscow, where she joined him and worked with him on the later volumes of his monumental history of Ukraine.After his death she was arrested. All her manuscripts were destroyed and she was sent to a GULAG, a labor camp in Siberia. She died there in 1943.

A Portrait
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