Louise Nevelson. That Silent Place. 1954–55. Painted wood, 20 1/2 × 37 1/2 × 7 1/2" (52 × 146 × 19 cm). The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Gift of Devorah Sherman. © 2022 Estate of Louise Nevelson/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

Over the course of a month, the war in Ukraine has inflicted thousands of casualties and untold destruction, displacing more than 10 million people and becoming the fastest-growing refugee crisis in Europe since World War II. As a tribute to the people of Ukraine, MoMA’s curators have installed Gallery 507: In Solidarity with the work of artists born within the country’s present-day borders; it includes paintings, drawings, sculptures, photographs, and prints by Louise Nevelson (born in Pereiaslav), Sonia Delaunay-Terk (born in Hradyz’k), Kazimir Malevich (born in Kyiv), Weegee (born in Zolochiv), Janet Sobel (born in Katerynoslav), and other artists in the Museum’s collection.

The gallery also includes an excerpt from a poem by Serhiy Zhadan, one of Ukraine’s best-known novelists and poets, which appears below in English (translated by John Hennesy and Ostap Kin) and in Ukrainian. A resident of Kharkiv in Eastern Ukraine, since 2014 Zhadan has written about the Russo-Ukrainian war; the poem below is the first entry in his collection A New Orthography (2020). “Serhiy has managed to create a language that transmits in a very understandable way not only contemporary issues,” Ostap Kin has said, “but also neglected, forgotten, or omitted riddles of the past. At the same time it poses necessary questions to work with those things in the future.” Since the full-scale invasion began, Zhadan has remained in Kharkiv, doing humanitarian work and conducting numerous interviews in the city. Earlier this month, the Polish Academy of Sciences nominated him for the Nobel Prize in Literature.
—Alex Halberstadt, Senior Writer, Creative Team

• • •

To get together and talk—let’s start with what’s most difficult.
Let’s start with the madness of getting used to the night
uncoiling across the sheets.

The river, like a dress lifted over your head,
still remembers the warmth,
still replies to the heart beating
closer to morning, when the poetics
of exhaustion realigned.

Here we are—shouted into the night,
faded like ceramics under the sun.
With a language like birdsquawk.
With voices like animals calling to each other
when fire encircles them.

People from breathless borderlands get together.
Butchers whose bloody fingers have stiffened
as though covered with ink get together.
Eternal drovers bearing the Easter spirit
of the slaughterhouse get together.

Books that smell of grass and milk.
Icons printed on the same press
as futurist manifestos.

The animals smell the sweet language of dawn.
They study the orthography of June fogs
hiding their killers.

Let’s start our march across a green emptiness,
the motherland in twilight,
let’s drive the sacrificial cattle
through the wheat choir tuning up.
Let’s start, all of us who saw
how the quail of souls hide in a field,
who stepped into the water
to dispel its ice-cold anxiety
with a sunburn.
Let’s start with what’s most difficult—with singing
and quenching the fires emerging from the night.

Let’s start by whispering the names,
let’s weave together the vocabulary of death.

To stand and talk about the night.
Stand and listen to the voices
of shepherds in the fog
incanting over every single
lost soul.

• • •

Сходитись і говорити — почнімо з найтяжчого.
Почнімо цей шал вживання у ніч,
яка проступає вугіллям на простирадлах.

Ріка, ніби скинута через голову сукня,
ще пам’ятає тепло,
ще озивається на серцебиття,
ближче до ранку, коли постає
збита поетика втоми.

Ось ми — викричані в цю ніч,
вигорілі на сонці, наче кераміка.
З мовою, схожою на пташиний клекіт.
З голосами, мов у тварин, що перегукуються,
дивлячись, як зусібіч приступає пожежа.

Сходяться люди задиханого прикордоння.
Сходяться різники, чиї пальці стягує
кров, мов канцелярське чорнило.
Сходяться вічні погоничі, несучи за собою
великодній дух бійні.

Книги, що пахнуть травою і молоком.
Ікони, друковані в типографії
разом із маніфестами футуристів.

Нюшать звірі солодку мову світанку.
Вчать правопис червневих туманів,
серед яких ховаються їхні вбивці.

Почнімо ходу зеленою пусткою,
присмерковою батьківщиною,
почнімо гін жертовної звірини крізь
хорове розспівування пшениці.
Почнімо всі, хто бачив,
як ховаються в полі вальдшнепи душ,
хто заходив у воду,
щоби засмагою пройняти її
крижану тривожність.
Почнімо з найтяжчого — зі співу й гасіння вогню,
який підступає з ночі.

Почнімо із шепотіння імен,
виплітаймо разом цю лексику смерті.

Стояти і говорити про ніч.
Стояти і наслухати з туману
голоси пастухів,
що оспівують кожну
загублену душу.

Serhiy Zhadan

Serhiy Zhadan

Serhiy Zhadan is a Ukrainian poet, writer, essayist, and translator. English translations of Zhadan’s work include the books of prose Depeche Mode, Voroshilovgrad, and Mesopotamia (which also features poetry), and the poetry collections What We Live for, What We Die For and A New Orthography, from which this poem was drawn. He has received the 2015 Angelus Central European Literary Award (Poland), the 2014 Jan Michalski Prize for Literature (Switzerland), the 2009 Joseph Conrad-Korzeniowski Literary Award (Ukraine), the 2006 Hubert Burda Prize for young Eastern European poets (Austria), and the BBC Ukrainian Book of the Year award in 2006, 2010, and 2014. Zhadan lives in Kharkiv.

John Hennessy is the author of two collections, Coney Island Pilgrims and Bridge and Tunnel. He teaches at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst and serves as poetry editor for The Common.

Ostap Kin is the editor of New York Elegies: Ukrainian Poems on the City and translator, with Vitaly Chernetsky, of Songs for a Dead Rooster by Yuri Andrukhovych and, with Ali Kinsella, of The Maidan After Hours by Vasyl Lozynsky.