When you clean your weapon

When time and again, you clean your weapon

When you rub strong-smelling oils into your weapon

And shield it from the rain with your own body

When you swaddle it like a baby

Even though you’ve never swaddled a baby before—

You’re only nineteen, no baby, no wife—

The weapon becomes your only kin

You and the weapon are one.


When you dig trench after trench

When you dig this precious this hateful earth by handfuls

Every other handful reaches your soul

You grind the earth between your teeth

You don’t, you never will have an0ther

You climb into the earth like into your mother’s womb

You are warm and snug

You’ve never felt this close to anyone before

You and earth are one.


When you shoot

Even when it’s at night and you don’t see the enemy’s face

Even when night hides the enemy from you and you from the enemy

And embraces each of you as her own

You smell like gunpowder

Your hands, face, hair, clothing, shoes–

No matter how much you wash them—smell of gunpowder

They smell of war

You smell of war

You and war are one.


Written by Borys Humenyuk

Translated from the Ukrainian

by Oksana Maysymchuk and Max Rosochinsky

photo of author taken from Words for War, New Poems from Ukraine

edited by Oksana Maksymchuk and Max Rosochinsky

published by Ukrainian Research Institute Harvard University 2017

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