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Paper Bridge

Vasyl Makhno

Translated from Ukrianian by Olena Jennings; with an introduction by Ilya Kaminsky

Paper Bridge is an outstanding book of poetry that brings the Ukrainian awareness of present time, both personal and collective, and of our world of alienation and solitude, empty like the subway. With anthological poems like “Books,” “Awakening,” “Winter Poem,” “Elegy with an Onion,” “Sermon On The Mount”, “The World is an Empty Subway Car,” and many others, Makhno builds a paper bridge between the world’s sides – it is a bridge which can burn or resist, but in both cases is a witness to the existence of a traveler through souls, bodies and spirits, through our own consciousness.

                                                                                                                 — Lidija Dimkovska, author of A Spare Life

“Poems are not just winter that we suffer through together” writes Vasyl Makhno, a poet occupied with transforming suffering into praise. His voice rises in praise of seasons, cities, lovers, and strangers. This “paper bridge” he builds is a lifeline for broken-hearted wanderers, homeless heart-breakers, hopeless romantics, and helpful ironists. Makhno is the master of a contemporary Ukrainian ballad with its incantatory psalm-like repetitions, passionate imagination, rich in detail, and lyrical to its beating core.

                                                                                   —Valzhyna Mort, author of Music for the Dead and Resurrected 

How is Makhno able to keep this enviable spiritual equilibrium? Perhaps it is because we overhear in his tonalities his mother’s “raspy accordion,” one that grinds out the music even in the toughest days, a music that survived the twentieth century and keeps alive in the new horrors of the twenty-first; and now despite it all, even in his room in New York City, away from Ukraine, the poet can still hear how “old age sings,” how it “nervously forces the music into a rhythm,” and how it might falter, but it plays again. 
                                                                                                      —Ilya Kaminsky, author of Deaf Republic

About the Author

About the Translator

Vasyl Makhno is a Ukrainian poet, prose writer, essayist, and translator. He is the author of fourteen collections of poetry and most recently the book of  poems One Sail House (2021). He has also published a book of short stories, The House in Baiting Hollow (2015), a novel, The Eternal Calendar (2019), and four books of essays, The Gertrude Stein Memorial Cultural and Recreation Park (2006), Horn of Plenty (2011), Suburbs and Borderland (2019), and Biking along the Ocean (2020). Makhno’s works have been widely translated into many languages; his books have been published in Germany, Israel, Poland, Romania, Serbia and the US.  Two poetry collections, Thread and Other New York Poems (2009) and Winter Letters (2011), were published in English translation. He is the recipient of  Kovaliv Fund Prize (2008), Serbia’s International Povele Morave Prize in Poetry (2013), the BBC Book of the Year Award (2015), and Ukrainian-Jewish Literary Prize “Encounter” (2020).  Makhno currently lives with his family in New York City.

Olena Jennings is the author of the poetry collection Songs from an Apartment (2017) and the chapbook Memory Project (2018). Her novel Temporary Shelter was released in 2021 from Cervena Barva Press. Her translations of Vasyl Makhno’s poetry have been published in Consequence, Asymptote, and other journals. She is the founder and curator of the Poets of Queens reading series.

Усе маєш

ось тобі хліб на прожиток
і плащик ріки на руці
на пшеничному полі – жито
а на житньому – пшениці
а ще тобі дещо до хліба:
дорога – ріка – пагорб – схил
світла до твого сліду
повітря для твоїх крил
а ще тобі – що тобі? нащо?
все інше тебе знайде:
зсунеться з рук твоїх плащик
і ріка тебе перейде
і камінь – тобі за подушку
і берег ріки – нічліг
метеоритову смужку
прокреслено на чолі
ось маєш пшеницю з житом
і маєш капусту й горох
ключ – двері – замок
то хто так подбав про тебе?
так щедро тобі вділив?
цю річку прошиту небом
і двері тобі привідкрив?
You Have it All
You have bread to sustain you
And the cloak of the river on your arm
In the wheat field—rye
And in the rye field—wheat
And you have some things to go with your bread
The road, the river, the hill, the slope
Light for your footsteps
Wind for your wings
And what more do you need?
Everything else will find you
Your cloak will slip from your arms
And the river will pass you by
And a stone will be your pillow
And the riverbank, your bed
A comet’s tail
Will be etched upon your brow
And so you have wheat with rye
And you have cabbage and peas
No worries, no sorrow
A key, a door, a lock
So, who took care of you
And was so generous?
Who pierced the river with the sky
And opened the door for you?
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