“And when they bombed other people’s houses,” the poem goes. Who remembers the blitz of Grozny, Chechnya’s capital city, now? American politicians shouted for a bit. Then they forgot. It is lucrative to forget. The oil companies like doing business with Putin. “In the street of money in the city of money in the country of money,” the poem says, “our great country of money.”
And yet on the first day of March, over 800 people gathered for a Zoom poetry reading bringing together Ukrainian and American poets. It was one of the largest poetry readings I have witnessed. Why did so many turn to poetry in this time of crisis?
While we read poems, the 40-mile Russian military convoy threatened north of Kyiv. The West watched as young civilians took up guns, sand bags, Molotov cocktails. It’s not an especially large country, only 44 million people. There’s no one to fight for us but us.
“The West is watching us,” a friend writes. “This is their reality TV war, they are curious to see whether we will go on living, or die.”
Another friend emails: “We saw fighter aircraft, helicopters and Russian paratroopers from our window. But we walked for miles.” He tells me that they’re safe now: His wife is in Poland and he’s in Ukraine. He sends photos of the city where they lived.
A different day, a friend from Kyiv writes: “Am in Bukovina, took 2 dogs and 1 cat with me, Sophie’s choice, left 3 cats behind, being cared for by a neighbor.” It’s unbearable, she tells me. She is 12 miles from the Romanian border. Eventually, she crosses with only one dog.
An Odessa friend contacts me to say: “I’ve seen today 10-km queue in Palanca and approx 500-600 people that were walking by feet. Mamas with kids and it’s snowing and some kids crying, others have serious men’s eyes.”