World Poetry Day
THE MUSHROOMS OF DONBAS
In spring Donbas disappears in the fog, and the sun hides behind heaps of earth.
So you need to know where you’re going,
you need to know the man who can make the arrangements.
This man was a worker in the former pumping station
worn down by alcohol.
When we met, he said, “We, the workers of the pumping station,
were always considered the elite of the proletariat, yeah, the elite.
When everything fell the fuck apart, many
just put their hands down. But not the workers
of the pumping station, not us.
We organized an independent mining union,
we took over three buildings of the former plant
and started to grow mushrooms there.”
“Mushrooms?” I couldn’t believe it.
“Yes. Mushrooms. We wanted to grow cactus with mescaline, but
cactus won’t grow here in Donbas.
You know what’s important when you grow mushrooms?
It’s important to get high, that’s right, friend – it’s important to get high.
We get high, believe me, even now we have to get high, maybe it’s because
we are the elite of the proletariat.
And so – we take over three buildings and start our mushrooms.
Well, there’s – the joy of work, elbow grease,
you know – the heady feeling of work and accomplishment.
And what’s more important – everyone gets high! Everyone’s high even without mushrooms!
The problems began a few months later. This is gangland
territory, you know, recently a gas station was burnt down,
they were so eager to burn it down, they didn’t even manage to
fill up, so of course the police caught them.
And so, one gang decides to take us on, decides to take away
our mushrooms, can you believe it? I think in our place anyone else
would have bent over, that’s the way it is – everyone bends over here,
according to the social hierarchy.
But we get together and think – well, mushrooms – this is a good thing,
it’s not a matter of mushrooms, or elbow grease,
or even the pumping station, although this was one of the arguments.
We just thought – they are coming up, they will grow
our mushrooms will grow, you could say they’ll ripen to harvest
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
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
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.
The Mushrooms of Donbas
2007, Serhiy Zhadan
Publisher: Folio, Kharkiv, 2007
© Translation: 2011, Virlana Tkacz and Wanda Phipps
Publisher: First published on PIW, 2011