Chickens Don't Fly
by Vasyl Makhno
Translated from the Ukrainian by Ali Kinsella
There was a time when the hills of Bazar were the highest and the greenest. And I carried the Dzhurynka River nestled in my shirt like a quail’s egg found in the grass. And the rains came to us like guests on the Intercession; and snow grazed on the banks of the Dzhurynka.
There was a time when Hill-and-Valley’s hare lip, That Mountain’s vigilant ear, and Beyond-the-Pond’s fin, together with the ringing of the empty bucket against the stone well, the early evening lowing of the cows that had grass stuck to their nostrils, and the dense air that smelled like milk, pierced me through like the vernal water of the Dzhurynka piercing through the snow dams in spring. I didn’t understand anything because I still believed Grandpa’s prophecies that someday we would be chickens, ants, and fish and our memory would be light like the air of one’s home.
There will be a time when our chickens will lay the white eggs of life and death: whether on the golden straw spread on the floor for Christmas, or for our limpid words.
In March 2013, I tried a few times unsuccessfully to get ahold of Tony Sozanski, whom I didn’t know but who lived on 39th Street in Manhattan and who, as far as I could surmise, had to be connected to Ferdynand Respaldiza, the colonel of the cavalry, the last lord of the village of Bazar.
New York was fighting off the spring winds and Tony was fighting me off. I left a message on his answering machine asking him to call me back. A week went by and Tony and I talked about the Respaldiza family, about his father, Andrew Sozanski, who lived in Ottawa and whose phone number Tony gave me at the end of our conversation. When the next rain flooded the streets of New York, I went into Think Coffee on Fourth Avenue, ordered black, English tea, found an empty seat, and, having pulled out my laptop, began to record all the details I was aware of at that time.
Everything started in 1939—an important time in every corner of Europe—when the Respaldizas were thrown out of their manor: the paralyzed colonel and his wife Matylda, whose ancestors had long been in charge of all the property in Bazar, and who was ready to accept all of fate’s challenges. As a young child I used to hear this strange, exotic word, “Respaldiza,” from my great-grandpa, Mykhailo Kardynal, who fell only 18 months short of a hundred wrinkly years. He always came back to the manor, to Lord Respaldiza’s horses, to Lord Respaldiza himself with whom he had formed a friendship when serving as a stable boy thirty years his senior, as much as a lord and a servant, a noble and a peasant can, maintaining the appropriate distance and etiquette.
The town or township of Respaldiza is located not far from Bilbao. The word is Spanish, attesting to the Spanish roots of Ferdynand himself. In the expanse that was Bazar, it turned out that the destroyed manor didn’t disappear from memory. People would return to it when thinking of Poland, of 1939, of Moshko Ashkenazi, the manor’s caretaker. When they built the collective farm’s chicken coops—which they’d later also neglect—on the site of the ruined manorial building and all the agricultural outbuildings that were necessary for running the farm, the villa sank into the ground. People used to tell me that over there, near those coops, they’d find pieces of thick, colored glass soldered into metal designs that looked like they were from the manor’s stained-glass windows. After destruction something indeed remains, not only words and memories, but something sinks deep into the earth. Respaldiza was buried in the local cemetery near the Wolański family chapel. After the war, it seems in 1946, the chapel will also be ruined. The entrance will be toppled. And some time later, the wooden cross on Ferdynand Respaldiza’s tomb will rot, the mound will become overgrown, level out, and the earth will swallow everything.
Approximately a week later, Andrew Sozanski from Ottawa, Andrzej, Ferdynand Respaldiza’s grandson, called me in New York when I wasn’t at home. I spoke with him two days later, clearing up the minor details of his pedigree, interrogating him about his grandfather and about his mother Blanca Respaldiza, explaining who I was, where I was from, and why I was interested in Ferdynand. I’m not sure that I convinced Andrew, who today is eighty years old and whom I startled with my questions about Bazar and the Respaldizas. Andrew couldn’t remember any of his trips to Bazar, but he told me he had a picture of the manor and had himself traced his family tree. He promised to email me everything.
In September 2012 we took my brother’s Chevrolet to Bazar through Yazlovets, a town situated on seven hills that looks like a candelabra. Its hillocks and glens with their spider webs of streets, towers, and churches once formed the border between the Ottoman Empire and the Kingdom of Poland. But when we got out onto the Buchach-Zalishchyky highway now, we were accompanied by regiments of yellow corn, overgrown crops, and packs of dogs that emerged from the still-green bushes and clumps of grass.
We entered Bazar from the Buriakivka side, passing a mound of trash that the villagers had been building up for years and an orchard that had turned scabby because no one was looking after it. The road sign for Bazar was the first border that my memory of words ever encountered. When the Chevrolet came up even with the green gate—beyond which lay the yard where no one was walking and the house where no one lived—Mom, who was also with us, took a long time opening the gate. In her absence, as it happens, the lock had rusted and I had to first pick it and then mess around with the lock on the door for a while. It was as though we’d hurt the house’s feelings and it didn’t want to let us in. Inside, the table across from the tiled stove was covered with an oilcloth. Obviously Mom had changed it, because the old oilcloth always had cuts in it, brownish rings from hot pots, and stains. Now it was clean. The vases on the windowsill that Grandma had loved, the flowerpots wrapped in foil in order to survive the winter here alone, the bambetel, a wooden bench somewhat like a settle, always painted that bright red that we bought at the hardware store. If the weather was nice, we’d carry the bambetel outside and let it dry in the sun. The sideboard made by old Shabat whose lopsided doors that were always a pain to close. And underneath the mirror, embroidered with coarse colorful thread long ago purchased from Paraska Krilova who used to get packages from America, was a smallish pocket for combs that had threaded needles sticking out of its embroidery work. A few of these objects had found themselves a cozy nook in my memory—Grandpa’s picture, the homespun linen, these things that I knew in childhood before they were lost. The apple trees had withered and the plums no longer bore fruit, nor did the raspberry or currant bushes. The rocks on the old cellar were swallowed by silence. For some reasons stacks of bricks still stood in the yard, brittle and covered in green lichen as though someone might still build a wall with them. The people who bought those bricks are gone, and the bricklayers who could build a wall from them are gone too.
In May 2010, eighty-seven-year-old Grandma Anna was taken away from this house and away from this yard to the cemetery, and all rights to the house, yard, garden, and these rocks and bricks with their lichen, passed to my mother. When Grandma lived here, tobacco bloomed on the outskirts, garlic and onions grew in the garden, wormy apples rotted in the potato patch, and the ripe plums smelled like golden honey. The Dzhurynka tinkled, and the fish, beating their fins against its banks, flew through the waves like the autumn chickens running down the trail. And the yard knew why it was holding the bricks, and the bricks knew what they were needed for, and the potatoes knew when to break into flower, and the tobacco knew when it would be harvested, and the house knew when it would be plastered, and the metal roof knew when it would be painted, and the rocks knew when they would be gathered. And I knew who was waiting for me where, for I still didn’t know New York, and New York didn’t know me—and somehow we got along without each other.
People were harvesting potatoes in their gardens and kids were coming home from school—not many, maybe four boys in tracksuits.
Why have I not been here for so long that even the color of the Dzhurynka’s water has changed, and my eyes have grown old?
Now that I have read through the newspapers that were printed in Austrian and Polish Lviv and Ternopil and the various testimonies of Ukrainians, Poles, Jews, and Turks, looked at hundreds of photographs and archival footage on YouTube from different times, the thought has occurred to me that the history of the village of Bazar could be written in four books like the four seasons of the year: spring, summer, fall, and winter; like the four Gospels in which the scared and profane, the human and divine are mixed up, tightly entangled. I would choose each narrator to tell her own story, recount in her own language her woes and complaints. They would stand at the different ends of the village—Pavshivka, Kryvoluka, Yazlovets, and Buriakivkа. I’d want them to come together and listen to each other.
For me, an especially interesting page of Bazar’s history, its particular historical metaphysics, was the discovery of the Ottoman period in the village’s meandering history. Bazar is mentioned exactly once in the Turkish census of Podillia’s villages and towns done for the Turkish administration then located in Kamianets-Podilsky.
According to the Treaty of Buchach signed in 1672, between 1672 and 1683 the Ottoman Empire maintained a border with the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth. For almost eleven years Mehmed IV’s constables collected tribute in accordance with that detailed inventory of people and goods. On the hills of Bazar, the well-armed janissaries pranced their horses and instilled forever in the local genotype a slanted cut of the eye and a tobacco pigment of the skin. For some reason, the Turkish customs house and market stalls were located in Bazar and the settlement went by different names: some called it Mytnytsia, some Bazar.* In the administrative organization of the Ottoman Empire, Bazar belonged to the Chortkiv nahiye of the Kamianets eyalet of the Podillia pashalik.
Ukrainians, Poles, and Jews lived in Bazar. Armenians would come from Yazlivets; they were a part of the Armenian community that settled on the hills of Yazlivets in the Middle Ages. The Galician Jews, who ran the pubs in Bazar, rented orchards, and engaged in commerce, had also showed up here with the expansion of the Kingdom of Poland into Podillia. But the Ukrainians, who often mixed with the Turks, remained the in the majority, ever residing on the outskirts of large empires. After the Treaty of Karlowitz in 1699, Bazar again ended up on the Polish side of the border. And the dissolution of Poland in 1795 joined Bazar to the Austro- Hungarian Empire, although for a little while Eastern Galicia was also a part of Russia. Under Austria, this was the fringes of the eastern borders; under Poland, it was also the fringes.
There is an encyclopedia entry on Bazar in the Geographic Dictionary of the Kingdom of Poland and Other Slavic Countries published in Warsaw in 1880, which states that the village is located a mile from the town of Yazlovets on the Dzhuryn River. In all there are 875 residents, of whom 745 are Greek Catholics, 94 Roman Catholics, 15 Armenians, and 21 Israelites. There are 1719 plowed plots, 124 meadows, and 19 pastures. The land is fruitful, producing every sort of grain, and also tobacco and corn.
Out of all the surrounding villages, the land in Bazar is rather lush and fertile, and the hillocks and glens balance each other out evenly. Only the eastern portion where the lord’s burned down manor is located juts out over the village that has sprawled out in four directions and sprouted houses all along the Dzhurynka.
Here history went deep into the earth, becoming the Wallachian Path, the Burial Ground, the Red Well, the Dry Pond. History saturates Bazar from all centuries, from all possible ends of the earth, and from all empires.
Galicia has digested itself.
Mykhailo Kardynal came to Bazar from Antonivtsi and right behind him came six more Kardynals, all of whom married local Tatars. That was how these peasants with the surname of the highest ecclesiastical order became Bazarites and shared everything with this space: both its air and its earth.
In 1945, a group of people was resettled here, among them was Yurko Makhno. They also became part of Bazar’s air and earth.
History was again being interwoven, again getting tangled.
Ferdynand Respaldiza took root in the Kardynal branch because Mykhailo Kardynal, my great-grandfather, twice married and the father of four children, served as the senior stable boy in the upper manor.
My great-grandfather’s oldest son, Mykola, always accompanied Ferdynand’s daughter when she went horseback riding, and Grandpa’s younger sister, Maria, would go to the house with her father to play. After Ferdynand Respaldiza caught him in his orchard and told my great- grandfather about it, my grandpa Vasyl remembered the lord his whole life. Of course Ferdynand did not know that Mykhailo taught his son a lesson on the order of things that evening with the reins from the horse’s harness.
In 1939, Grandpa’s older brother Mykola, who was serving in the Uhlan regiment of the Polish Army, was supposed to return home and my grandpa was supposed to enter military service in the fall. But it didn’t happen. Mykola would come home only in 1947, having first spent time in a prisoner-of-war camp, and then, upon getting freed, having been reclothed in a Soviet uniform and taken by train to the Far East to fight the Japanese. Japan surrendered when Private Mykola Kardynal was en route to the front, but he still had to serve two years in the Far East military district.
In 1944, Vasyl Kardynal, my grandpa, will be separated from his young wife and newborn baby daughter by a war that was coming to an end but still needed him. Yet he wasn’t to become the earth of that war; he would return.
GARTER SNAKES, CHICKENS, AND ANTS
When the garter snakes were swimming the Dzhurynka, summer had come and I would spy on our chickens laying their eggs in the bushes; I could climb in there after pushing the thorny raspberry canes to the side with my arms or the fuzzy currant leaves that blocked my view of the places dug out by our brainless chickens. As soon as the white egg rolled out of the hen I would thrust my arm into the bush and grope around for it. Solemnly, I would carry the warm egg smeared with mud, with feathers stuck to its shell up to the house. The chicken eggs were kept in a black tin with high sides that was used once a year to bake kalaches for Easter and once a year to bake kalaches for the Intercession. Sometimes in early spring newly hatched chicks would stomp around in there, but at other times it held sugar or flour. Grandma fried the fresh eggs every morning with green onions and took the older ones to the shop to exchange for bread or matches. The biggest ones were set aside to put under the brooding hen. Our chickens laid in the barn, but there were also some that clucked in the bushes, and the martens that sometimes killed and dragged our chickens away relished the eggs they found there.
Not only would the chickens hide in the raspberries that sprang up around the gooseberries, blackcurrants, and redcurrants, but so would I, examining the ants as they savored the moist black earth. Ants were constantly carrying something back to their home, or trickling into a crack in the ground, or suddenly reappearing on the surface. I’d bring them sugar in my pockets and stare into the fissure at the chaotic life of the ant tsardom imagining myself as an ant who would find an underground path home along with the others. Grandpa said that ants bite and that I couldn’t take sugar to them because they could march on our house, and they might capture us, just carry us away in the middle of the night and we wouldn’t be able to open our eyes. Grandpa also said that he’d seen quails at the Dzhurynka and that garter snakes drank the eggs they left in their nests. “It’s summer,” Grandpa would say, “The garter snakes have started drinking the quail eggs.”
We lived with the heavy taste of tobacco in the air; we lived among the thick stalks of tobacco, the wide, lop-eared green leaves with their veins that looked like they carried blood, but really moved sticky tar. That tar, which seemed to drift down the Dzhurynka, dissolving in its water that was green one day and brown the next, and yet another yellow as though dressed by the yolks of many quail eggs. The tobacco ripened in summer, but in spring the seeds were sprouted in great big wooden containers, their quantity carefully recorded by the collective farm’s inventory clerk. Later, under the spring rains, the seedlings would be transplanted into even rows, and We lived with the heavy taste of tobacco in the air; we lived among the thick stalks of tobacco, the wide, lop-eared green leaves with their veins that looked like they carried blood, but really moved sticky tar. That tar, which seemed to drift down the Dzhurynka, dissolving in its water that was green one day and brown the next, and yet another yellow as though dressed by the yolks of many quail eggs. The tobacco ripened in summer, but in spring the seeds were sprouted in great big wooden containers, their quantity carefully recorded by the collective farm’s inventory clerk. Later, under the spring rains, the seedlings would be transplanted into even rows, and the puny, green tobcacco plants would send their still rather weak roots into the earth. In summer—when the leaves and stalks had gotten stronger—after blossoming the tobacco fields smelled like the black tar of their green blood, and we all smelled like the tobacco blossoms that tickled our noses. First the bigger leaves would be gathered, giving the smaller ones time to grow; the stalks would grow bare and the flowers would fall away. Our hands would turn black from snapping off the tobacco, and the juice would set under our nails, blacken, and turn to tar. Everyone who harvested tobacco breathed in the heady smell and could never wash the black off their hands. The leaves were stacked into bundles neatly sorted by size, and then taken home where they were dried in the sun. When the cords were strung up all around the houses, for a time the walls looked like the the green water of the Dzhurynka. The aluminum yehlytsia, a great big needle, was threaded, fitting leaf next to leaf on an ordinary grey cord that was later hung around the house. The green tobacco leaves developed yellow spots in the sun and then, once they’d crumpled and wrinkled like a ruble in one’s pocket, the leaves and their cords were carried into attic or the barn. There, sheltered from the rain, the cords of leaves would give off the last of their moisture and the dry air would transform them into brittle, wrinkly, brown tobacco. Stretched between the rafters, the cords in the attic dangled over our heads. The tobacco would crumble and the dust that was always suspended in the air between the cords smelled like real tobacco. Later the cords would carefully be removed and laid out on blankets in the yard. They would slide each leaf off the cord, smooth it out with their palms, and stack the next one on top. The leaves were delicate and could have disintegrated in their hands, so they worked with the utmost care. The dried tobacco also had to be sorted: the large, brown leaves were of the highest grade and fetched the highest price; the smaller ones went to the lower classifications. In early fall, the sorted tobacco was taken to the broker’s office where there was always a lot of commotion. People would fight with the broker over the quality of the tobacco they’d brought, and he’d weigh their blankets piled high with the flattened leaves, and write something down in his notebook with the indelible pencil that he licked between every note. Because of this the broker’s lips and tongue were blue, while the room where they delivered the tobacco was brown and gold. The scent of tobacco, at first fully ripe, then a wilted green, and finally brittle and delicate, proceeded from spring to summer and finally to fall. I grew up with this smell. During this period, Grandma Anna always smelled like tobacco, and the hands that she soaked in the scalding water, releasing thin tobacco-colored threads into the water, never quite came clean. Even after our tobacco went into the bed of the truck to the tobacco factory and the broker gave us a receipt—written out with that slobbery pencil—that said how many kilograms we had and of what grade, they’d only pay us in mid-December, closer to Christmas. Some of this tobacco money was used to buy things for Christmas, but the rest was put in the savings book. By the end of winter, we’d manage to get our hands clean, and sometime in March Grandma Anna would again start fretting about the seedlings, about the blankets, and about the cords and what we’d need to buy. Was this not perhaps why at the end of her life she looked like a dried out tobacco leaf with no life left in it, so brittle and so brown?
At the end of the sixties, there were still people living in Bazar who remembered the wars. Some remembered the First World War, others the Second. The blacksmith’s wife, Kovalykha, remembered both. Kovalykha was fourteen years old during the first one, and forty during the second. I remember Kovalykha and I remember her wars from her stories. Kovalykha’s old, solid memory resided in her tongue; her forge used to puff out black air, but when they came and hung a lock on the door, this black air dissipated and Kovalykha’s memory became my own.
In 1968, Soviet troops passed through Bazar headed for the western border. They’d probably been sent down these village roads intentionally so as to not draw attention to themselves. Military vehicles freshly painted green pulled covered cannon behind them. And an officer in field dress sat next to the driver in the cab of every vehicle. From the heights of her hill, Kovalykha said there would be a war. Our Fedio was serving near the Urals. I thought that even though he was out in the Urals, Fedio would know if we had a war on our hill and what would happen. Kovalykha said that the cannon had gone down the trail just like that before the war with Austria. Grandma clapped her hands together and squawked that she needed to round up the chickens—who knew how large the army going down that path was or if the military vehicles with their cannon would squash all her fowl. Later we ate dinner by the light of an oil lamp that made the ceiling sooty, the wick extended half a centimeter. The whole house smelled of sweet oil, and through the gap in the cast-iron doors, light filtered in from the fire in the kitchen and skipped across the walls. Grandma Anna prayed, mentioning each of us, pushed aside the curtain, and looked out the window: which of the neighbors was still awake? When she woke me up in the morning, Grandma Anna told me that the military traversed our trail all night and that Kovalykha’s heifer was going to calve, but that they couldn’t get the calf out for anything, so the vet and some local guys had been walking around the yard since early morning. And if I washed up and ate breakfast fast, then I could still see how they pulled the calf from Kovalykha’s cow. I really wanted to feed sugar to the ants while it was early, but there was no way I could miss the birth of Kovalykha’s calf. Grandma said that she had to go to Old Lady Melnyk’s to get two two- week-old doves for Grandpa before the war started. Old Melnyk played the tambourine at weddings, and his two sons were serving in the army just like our Fedyo. The Melnyks kept doves. Not many, just one or two pairs. As soon as a new clutch of squabs was a couple of weeks old, Melnyk’s wife would call Grandma. Having leaned the ladder against the pigeon loft, she would pull out two young pigeons that still couldn’t fly, and give them to Grandma who wrapped them in her apron and carried them home. She never wrung the young doves’ necks in front of me. Once when I saw Grandma straining their blood into a white, enamel bowl, breaking their necks like twigs while they contorted in convulsions, I threw up under a blackcurrant bush. When Grandpa started coughing, his face turned the color of ink. When he’d hawked something up, he’d spit into the bucket of wood chips and mix his phlegm around with a spatula from the kitchen. Someone suggested he drink broth made from young doves, which was why Grandma was carrying doves back from Mrs. Melnyk. I went to Kovalykha’s. Grandma would affectionately call her “Nanashka,” Kovalykha’s eyes with their half-lowered lids crusty with cataracts like the crested chicken’s that was killed by a car on the road last year. Kovalykha never took off her embroidered blouse or the vest that she bought in Chortkiv before her wedding, back in Austrian times. Grandpa was supposed to go pick up the tiles that very day that Kovalykha’s cow, feeble and foaming at the mouth, was lying near the smithy. Kovalykha and Maria were holding her head when the vet cut the thick cords from the thin legs of the calf that was trying to stand up.
So early that morning when Kovalykha’s calf was born, Grandpa indeed went to pick up the tiles for the new potbelly stove. The old stove, which was installed by a skilled worker Grandpa hired right after I was born, was the constant object of war between Grandma and Grandpa. “Bungler,” Grandma would say and her Tatar profile cut like a yataghan through the smoke and the steam pouring out of all the cracks and holes in that stove that was painted green with blue bells. So that day, when my and Grandma’s mornings were made up of Kovalykha’s cow and Melnyk’s doves, Grandpa went to some village in Bukovyna where they fired ceramic tiles.
“According to the schedule, the bread truck comes today after noon,” I thought. “That’s if the driver doesn’t have a beer in Pavshivka and nothing breaks on the way.” The old people and teenagers might stand in line until evening, but no one would return home without bread. Grandma Anna, getting ready to go to the field in Rudka, left 54 kopecks on the oilcloth-covered table, cut by a knife in many places, and told me to buy two loaves of black bread and one of white. We left the house together and I ran off, squeezing the kopecks in my fist.
TWO BLACK LOAVES AND ONE WHITE
The Dzhurynka was dammed in one spot where we’d swim. The banks of the river were hemmed with green grass, thistles, and bushes of wormwood; field mice squeaked and squadrons of flying bugs perforated the air over the river. Further up, in the direction of Pavshivka, the abandoned quarry bared its pink gums, and along the dirt road to Travna trucks kicked up the dust of summer that slowly settled it a gray haze. Remembering about the bread, I stripped down to my briefs and undershirt, still squeezing the kopecks in my fist. It was risky to leave the money in the grass on the bank, so I decided to swim with it. Skylarks sat slightly rocking amid the riverside rushes, a few white storks walked about the bank looking for frogs, and the warm, green water of the Dzhurynka smelled like fresh milk. There were three of us and not one of us could swim. We held onto the bank, kicking our legs with all our might, and also chopping the water with our skinny palms, our arms folded like fins. We wanted to be fish. The Dzhurynka ran parallel to the trail. I forgot about the bread and the money in my fist just like I forgot about my promise to Grandma Anna not to go swimming in the river. I knew that I’d see the bread truck come down the trail and that, after I dried off and wrung out my shorts and shirt, I’d go running after it to buy two black loaves and one white. The bread truck hadn’t shown itself and we lay in the grass looking up at the sky across which floated downy summer clouds, though sometimes the chicken feather of a holey cloud would stop above us and the river, blocking the sun; our bodies would break out in goose bumps and the green water would run from our noses. I kept my fist closed tightly, sure that the kopecks were reliably tucked away. And only now, when I opened it up did I see a dirty stripe on my palm, a reminder left by the kopecks washed clean by the Dzhurynka and possibly swallowed by a fish. I wanted to cry when the bread truck went speeding along toward the village, passing the brickworks and me and the Dzhurynka by. I stared as the vehicle crested the hill carrying my two black loaves and one white which I wouldn’t be able to buy. The sorriest part was that Grandma Anna would now know that I had gone swimming and that I lost the money, and when Grandpa returned home for dinner from Bukovyna with the tiles and wanted to treat the driver to a drink, there wouldn’t be a crumb of bread in the house. And it was my fault.
I saw old Kovalykha on the hill; she was looking at our yard, which meant the tiles had been brought back. I hid behind the sacks of tiles that were stacked up and covered from the rain. I was waiting for someone to come out of the house. No one came out, so I plucked up my courage and went inside where I saw Grandma, Grandpa, and the driver. They were talking about something and the driver was spreading lard on black rye bread. Grandma, cheered by the arrivial of the tiles and some moonshine, didn’t even ask about the bread or the money. Piling fried pototoes in my bowl, she was telling a story about how our chickens flew across the road when they were returning home from Kovalykha’s ditch. Neither Grandpa nor the driver knew what this sign meant.
FERDYNAND CHEVALIER DE RESPALDIZA
Andrew Sozanski from Ottowa kept his word and sent his memories of his relatives, his family tree, and Matylda Respaldiza’s death certificate signed by a lawyer from Krakow, Charles Bocheński, dated 1948. There was also a report dated August 23, 1918 from the command of the Uhlan regiment on Ferdynand Respaldiza’s appointment as lieutenant colonel because he as the “head of the agricultural division expressed untiring persistence and extraordinary initiative under difficult circumstances and by total devotion to his obligations made a great contribution to the improvement of the economic effectiveness of the province in the interests of the state and the satisfaction of the military’s needs. This extraordinary officer is worthy of the highest commendation.” I wonder whether anyone had time to react to this commendation for in October–November 1918 Austria-Hungary will collapse. Along with those papers, Andrew also sent me a yellowed photograph of a mule harnessed to a metal loader with large metal wheels and some kind of building covered in greenery. The mule is half covering up a guy in a helmet. Someone wrote “Bazar” on the reverse side of the photo.
No matter how I pictured Bazar of the early twenties or even Bazar of the thirties, I was always in need of some sort of visual component, not simply something I imagined, but something historically and objectively accurate from that period or epoch. The fifteen photographs dated 1925 that Andrew Sozanski scanned and sent to me pulled back the curtain on images of the manorial estate, the Respaldiza family, and their dog, Sphinx.
If the photographs are to be believed, in the twenties Ferdynand Respaldiza was fit, had the olive stare of Spanish eyes, and wore a moustache befitting a cavalryman. He was dressed in an impeccable dark, pinstriped suit with the indispensable riding breeches, a bowtie, and a white shirt with French cuffs. This worldly cavalier with his refined manners was nearly sixty. In another picture, Ferdynand and Matylda are sitting in an armchair and above them hangs a painting in a gilded frame, a sailing ship. Ferdynand is wearing a tie and, this time, a dark suit with white pinstripes; Matylda is wearing a silk dress with a fur mantle tossed over her left shoulder. In her left hand she holds a cigarette. Ferdynand is not looking at the camera, rather off to the side, but Matylda is staring straight ahead, flirting with the moment the picture was being taken, somehow playing with it in a special way. The Respaldizas are either getting ready to call on someone or have just returned from somewhere, perhaps even from Mali Zalishchyky where Matylda’s oldest sister Ewa lived with her husband, Earl Felicjan Korytowski of the house of Mor, and her son, Erazm. The Korytowskis had many large estates, which their son, Erazm, would fritter away on prostitutes and parties in Lviv after the death of his father. After the war, Andrzej Sozanski wrote, he would work in Britain on telephone poles.
Every year in early spring, Ferdynand Chevalier de Respaldiza, that colonel in the Polish cavalry, would stand at the largest window of his home surrounded by the park and orchard, and watch as his lackey Anton and his groom Mykhailo shot crows on his orders. Here, in Eastern Galicia, piercing March winds rocked the building and Ferdynand. It seemed like the snow, licked by those winds, had frozen for eternity to this earth. At the start of March the crows celebrated their corvine weddings, they made nests in the crowns of the trees in the park, in spite of Ferdynand at the window or even Anton and Mykhailo with their rifles at the ready. Anton, Ferdynand’s lackey, never served in any army, so he held the rifle like a soup tureen, lightly but fearing it. A professional soldier, Ferdynand saw this. Mykhailo, the groom, a former uhlan of the eighth uhlan regiment that was billeted in Sadhora, shot the birds out of the trees, falling them with well-aimed shots. They spun to the ground, staining the already thin March snow with their blood. Antokh disappea frozen earth at the end of the garden.
Ferdynand also saw how the murders of crows, startled by the shots, flew over the Dzhurynka and vanished behind the gray snow clouds.
After Mykhailo had buried the dead crows, Ferdynand stepped away from the window. The senior groom returned to his stables where the main one held twelve pairs of purebred horses that Ferdynand took on his trips outside Bazar.
Mykhailo always harnessed them in two pairs, matching the chesnuts to the chestnuts, the blacks to the blacks.
In a photograph from 1925, Ferdynand is in English riding breeches, and shiny boots that hug his calves tightly, with a cane, a bowtie, and a black helmet on his head. Matylda is with him. Both are seated in woven chairs on the veranda of the house, and their guest is right on the stairs. Matylda holds a parasol. There is a wooden, four-wheeled britzka for two which a grey pinto stallion is harnessed to. Two young ladies are tucked into the britzka, also holding parasols, dressed like it is late fall or early spring. Once can see that the Respaldizas and their guest are chatting about something with the ladies, something that vaguely concerns Blianka Respaldiza, the daughter of the lord of the manor, and perhaps also Lula Koziebrodska. The britzka is just about to pull away and the Respaldizas and their guest are going in to have lunch.
The Respaldizas got married in 1907. Ferdynand, who bore the title of marquis, and Matylda Bogucka from Velyki Chornokintsi, whose dowry would bring him two manors in the village of Bazar in the Chortkiv district: Bazar one, the manor on the hill, and Bazar two, the one in the valley. He settles in Bazar, and later himself becomes part of the earth of Bazar. Matylda Bogucka came from the family of Władysław Bogucki who had married Marianna Wolańska. Matylda had a brother, Aleksander, and two sisters, Ewa and Maria. Ewa married Count Felicjan Mor-Korytowski and resided on an estate in Mali Zalishchynky. Maria was Countess Koziebrodska. Aleksander was never married. The Boguckis were great landowners and nobles who had long ago taken root in Eastern Galicia.
Ferdynand never was in Spain, the country of winters warm and mild like the pulp of an orange, because he, the son of a captian in the Austrian army, entered this world a legal citizen of Austria-Hungary. The lists of graduates of the Military Academy of Maria-Tereza in Wiener- Neustadt (Die Teresianische Militär-akademie zu Wiener-Neustadt) show that Ferdynand was born July 22, 1871 in Linz and that in 1888 he finished his studies at the Millitar Oberrealschulle zu Machrisch-Wiesskierche. He started his military service with the rank of lieuteneant in the 13th Bohemian Dragoon regiment of Prince Eugene of Savoy on August 18, 1891. The Austro- Hungarian cavalry was divided into dragoons, lancers, and hussars; Germans and Czechs served in the dragoons, Germans and Slavs—Ukrainians, Poles, Croats, and Slovenes in particular—in the lancers, and in the hussars, Hungarians exclusively. These regiments were mixed according to the imperial war red from Ferdynand’s field of vision for some time, and Mykhailo kept gathering up the dead crows and buried them in the doctrine and the officers changed the places of their service. Today it is perhaps difficult to determine all of Ferdynand Respaldiza’s movements. The most reliable information is held in the archives of the Austrian army, and the press at the time, which informed its readers in detail of all the events happening in the world and the country. The newspaper Dziennik Polski gives a list of all the guests to the city of Lviv in 1904—such lists were printed in the press at the time. In December of that year, among other significant guests to the city, a Ferdynand Respaldiza from Zhovkva is identified as having stayed in the Georges Hotel. The 15th dragoon regiment of Archduke Josyf was quartered in Zhovkva then. What could the young officer have been doing in December before the holidays? There would have been something to do in Lviv, actually, there’s always something to do in Lviv. Later in 1905, a list of officers who earned promotions in rank published in Gazeta Lwowska shows that Ferdynand became a cavalry captain of the first class. In this same issue there’s a long piece on the celebration of Friedrich Schiller’s birthday. They report that sixty thousand children celebrated the birthday of the poet in Vienna. A detailed piece on the Russo- Japanese War, an installment of Władysław Reymont’s novel The Peasants, an advertisement from the company Norddeutscher Lloyd for trips to the USA, Canada, Brazil, Australia, Japan, and China. There’s a notice that the foreign papers Figaro, Daily Chronicle, Frankfurter Zeitung, and Novoe Vremia can be ordered in the Hausman Passageway. Lviv theaters were showing Gorky and D’Annunzio, the exchange rate for currency and stocks, information on the work on the Adam Mickiewicz memorial, and an ad for in-home toilets were also printed.
Ferdynand’s regiment arrived in provincial Chortkiv where, from time to time, they organized some entertainment for the officers. All the lords from the local manor would get together, or the local constables would gather. The Polish noble families that were under the Austrian crown didn’t ever leave their comfortable perches in Galicia, so the meeting of an Austrian officer with Polish nobility was a regular accident.
Before World War One broke out in 1913, that same Gazeta Lwowska printed Ferdnyand and Matylda Respaldiza’s legal case. As the paper reports, they owed the bank 4488 crowns and were being represented in court by Solomon Wittlin. Announcements like this about the legal sale of property or about court cases concerning the most diverse life stories or adventures were often printed in the press.
From 1914 to 1917, the First World War played out approximately thusly in Ferdynand’s military service: “From 8-1-1914 to 1-24-1915, appointed to the Division of Military Command at the General Headquarters and also (to the Division of) Military Command in Lemberg, and from 1-25-1915 to 3-16-1917 to the Division of the 25th Corps at the General Headquarters. From 3-20-1917 at the Command of Agricultural Branches as the head of the Agricultural Division.” Obviously this officer’s experience in the Austrian military camp came in handy for the new state of the Second Polish Republic. Starting in 1918, Lieutenant Colonel Ferdynand Respaldiza is in the Organization of the Command of Farmers in Eastern Galicia and the establishment of “mechanized plowing.” Before him alone lies the task of modernizing agriculture in Eastern Galicia and, in this, mending relations with the Czechs and Hungarians.
At the time of the Ukrainian-Polish war, Lieutenant Respaldiza gives a report in June 1919 to the chief of the Polish military’s general headquarters explaining that Ukrainian soliders number around 8000 on the territory of northern Pokuttia. Naturally, this Austrian officer married to a Polish noblewoman who’s provided him with a substantial dowy, is on the side of the Polish Republic and its political and military interests. In 1919 Lieutenant Respaldiza transfers to the diplomatic corps at the time of the reestablishment of statehood; Respaldiza’s new motherland makes use of all his military experience and appoints him first military attaché in Bucharest, and later in Stokholm.
In the twenties, Ferdynand finally settles down in Bazar, taking up his household and family matters.
The Respaldizas do not go anywhere in 1939. Although the newspapers they subscribed to offered the presentiment of war, it was to be fleeting and victorious for the Polish Republic. Even in Lviv, where the Respaldizas had a villa, in the first days of September when the Germans had already attacked Gdańsk, the Targi Wschodnie* were still going on and the British Consul from its balcony in the city hall assured Lvivians of England’s obligations to its ally Poland. In Bazar, those on the Respaldiza estate had obviously put their trust in providence for Matylda, Ferdynand’s wife, could not allow herself to escape anywhere with a seventy-year-old paralyzed husband. The causes of this disease—which would sneak up on this professional soldier, this Austrian dragoon, this Polish military attaché who would outlast the First World War and the subsequent wars of 1919 and 1920—could be explained by the doctors to whom Ferdynand, doomed to immobility, appealed, but they are no longer possible to recreate. Maria, my grandfather’s sister, still lives near Kyiv.
I asked if I could write down her memories of Bazar in the thirties and the Respaldizas. According to the story told by Grandpa’s sister, told to her by Mykhailo Kardynal, her father, my great-grandfather, one time gypsies arrived at the manor. There were quite a few of them. Where they came from and why they chose the Respaldizas no one could say. The gypsies set up their camp. The next day an old gypsy woman approached Ferdynand, sweeping the road that led to the manor house with her skirt, and asked him to feed their horses and present them with gifts. Ferdynand got angry, threw his cane at her, and order her and the entire gypsy camp to leave. The gypsies packed up hastily but sometime later Ferdynand was overcome with paralysis. Which is why in 1939 Ferdynand Respaldiza could only impotently observe everything that was happening on his estate, incapable of affecting the events.
Blanka Respaldiza was born in Bazar in 1909. Her Spanish-sounding name did not at all suit the hills and valleys of Bazar. In that green air, the Paraskas, Teklias, Hannas, Yavdokhas, Marias, Yadvihas, and Khaias somehow flourished among the houses, shops, churches, and reading room, among the Lord’s fields, the villagers’ acres, the colony of Poles, and the tenants. It was in the manor on the hill, in the building with the columns and the enormous windows, adorned with hedges and various flowering bushes, that Blanka spent her childhood. Pines trees and an orchard were planted around the lord’s massive home. The building had only one story, but it was broad and its architecture combined the styles of Greek palaces. The central portion was a portico with columns: two columns at the corners and two in the center symetrically held up the massive portico above the three sets of double doors. Three pairs of windows with pilasters extended the building, also symetrically, in both directions. The paths were laid with tiles. There were a cook and servants in the house, and on the manor itself, close to forty employees.
The Respaldizas also owned a villa in Lviv on 29th of November Street, located downtown. According to Grandpa’s sister’s memory, Blanka easily grew restless and often took her britzka or even just a horse around the outskirts of Bazar. Ferdynand asked my great- grandfather to have his older son, Mykola, accompany the young Blanka on these mounted expeditions. From the photographs taken in 1925, Blanka stands in the middle of the hedge with the bull terrier Sphinx, who is actually jumping over the hedge. She is wearing a white dress. Summer exudes even from the yellowed photograph that has outlasted time itself. For some time it was in Lviv, later it lay in a Sozanski family album in Ottawa, and now it exists electronically on my computer. In another picture, Blanka is in the house with Ferdynand and, apparently, Ludwika Koziebrodska, her cousin, and the ever-present Sphinx. Ferdynand is wearing plaid pants, a plaid tweed jacket, and a bowtie—some sort of English colonial style. His Spanish nose, bent like an eagle’s talon, is the same as Blanka’s. Athough hers is slightly less hooked, it is obviously her father’s nose. All three of them are reflected in the mirror, making it possible to see their profiles. They stand half turned, and only Sphinx is looking at the camera. I accidentally came across the name Blanka on a 1926 list of guests to the Skavtiv villa in the area of Rabka- Slonne. She was registered as Blanka Respaldiza, of the Lozanski family crest. I searched for those Lozanskis to understand why Blanka would have been recorded as Lozanska, but my search came up empty. It must have just been a mistake—it should have been Sozanski. Andrzej Heliodor Antoni Sozanski, of the Korchak family crest, capitain of the 14th regiment of Yazlovets Uhlans, in the future becomes Blanka’s husband. They will marry on April 3, 1932 in the Jesuit church in Lviv. In 1933, the young couple will give birth to a son whom they will also name Andrzej. According to Grandpa’s sister Maria, the Respaldizas did not approve of their only daughter’s choice, and they seemed to have sought out a more respectable, in their opinion, party, some lord Perucki, though nothing ever came of it. And Matylda Respaldiza was incensed with her daughter. Andrzej Heliodor Antoni Sozanski, a professional officer of the Polish Army, the last commander of his regiment, participated in 1939 in the Battle of the Bzura in defense of Warsaw, and after the surrender, ended up in German captivity in the Muran camp. In 1945, he found himself in the British zone, lived in Britain for a while, and emigrated from there to Canada. As Andrzej Sozanski, Blanka and Andrzej Heliador Antoni’s son, recalls, immediately after his birth, Blanka came down with multiple sclerosis. He remembers Blanka in the hospital on Lychakivska Street, where they used to take him to see his mother. Blanka will die in Lviv in 1942 when she is thirty-three years old.
Matylda Respaldiza of the Boguckis, of the Ślepowron family crest, was born in 1882 in Chornokinetska Volia. Her parents were Władysław Teofil Tomasz Bogucki of the Ślepowron family crest, and Marianna Wolańska, of the Przyjaciel family crest. Matylda died in 1946 in the town of Kanchuha. The town is located not far from Yaroslav and Lantsut and very close to the village of Dubno where the Makhnos lived at the time of the Kingdom of Galicia and Lodomeria.
In one of the photographs from the 1925 series, the Respaldiza family is sitting at the lunch table: Ferdynand, some older lady, Blanka, and Matylda. A maid in a white starched apron and blouse stands near the table holding a plate; next to her there is a boy of about fifteen in a high-collared jacket with polished, gold buttons. Maybe he is also a servant. The room in which they’re eating is itself interesting, for it is not very big. Perhaps the Respaldizas took their lunch as a family in this smallish dining room. There is a tiled pot-bellied stove, a sideboard with a bottle of good cognac, a table lain with a white table cloth, broad plates, and silverware. Matylda holds a snifter of vodka whose tall bottle stands in the middle of the table. The atmosphere is at once somehow relaxed and simple. Observing all the details of this photograph, I am reminded of the words of Sándor Márai about how we thought we were only eating, but we were living history. Real history is recorded in this photograph; it’s comes through even in the placement of the lunchers. Who is sitting how and who is standing where—there’s nothing accidental, all the places are filled according to the prescribed order: those who dine, dine; those who serve, serve. Thus has history dictated.
Poland fell again, bringing an end to its domminance over Eastern Galicia. The Respaldizas’ family nest and manor was ruined in Bazar, the former servants and un-quartered Red Army soliders made off with everything they could. The manorial effects had already been being dragged into the attic of the house for a couple weeks already. First they confiscated the purebred horses for the needs of the Red Army. Then they slaughtered and fried the chickens, milked the hungry cows dry, finally butchering them too, building in front of the house a bonfire from pines they felled. At night, beef sizzled on the fire and the red tongues of fire licked the house’s walls and windows. They overturned wardrobes with the suits and dresses Ferdynand and Matylda had ordered from Lviv tailors or purchased in Lviv’s passageways. The soldiers divided Ferdynand’s colonel uniform from the Polish cavalry among themselves: the riding breeches and colonel’s coat with its white serpentine gorget patches. Matylda knew that she and Ferdynand needed to leave their plundered home. So she packed only the most necessary clothes for her and Ferdynand and of her jewelery, kept only her wedding ring. On their last day at the manor, one of the new officials pulled out the phonograph, put on a record with Chopin’s waltzes, and the soldiers of the Red Army, having fun, danced with Matylda Borecka- Respaldiza. The chicken feathers under the front door of the house swirled around the soldiers’ boots and the elegant high heels of Matylda Borecka, from the family of Ślepowron.
How does one feel when looking upon the ruins of one’s own life? When you can’t protect yourself against this destruction? When everything in your home is violated, even the silver coffee spoon brought from Vienna is sticking out of that cavalryman’s pocket, expropriated according to who knows what law.
Matylda issued from the Borecki line and, on her mother’s side, the Wolańskis. Since the end of the 17th century, the Wolańskis had owned the village of Bazar in the Chortkiv povit and they were to remain permanently in Bazar, having built a chapel for the whole family in the cemetery.
Not far from this chapel in the winter of 1941, they would bury the cavalry colonel Ferdynand Chevalier de Respaldiza. They’d carry him there on the peasant sleigh from the house of Ivan Shevchuk where Ferdynand would live out the last days of his earthly life. The funeral procession would be made up of the Greek Catholic priest Stefan Nitsovych, whoever had provided that sleigh, and Matylda, of the Boreckis, Respaldiza. There were none of the military honors that would have been Colonel Respaldiza’s due; the funeral procession was at most augmented by the cemetery crows that he had never loved while still alive.
There weren’t many Jews living in Bazar, only eleven families in total. The number of families was never settled once and for all, because some would come and some would go. The Jews kept bars and shops, changed one thing for another, rented gardens. They followed the laws of Moses, read the Torah, rested on the Sabbath, and ever being in the minority, tried not to clash with the local population. There was no especial amity between Ukrainians and Jews, though there was no animosity either. They all abandoned Bazar a few times. In 1915 the Jews left Bazar together with the retreating Austrian army, leaving their houses and property, which the Russian army appropriated for its own needs. In 1917 the Jews returned and saw the ruins: some of them left for the closest towns—Chortkiv, Buchah, or Tovste, and some started over again in Bazar. In 1939 the Jews left Bazar for good, it was said for Chortkiv. It is likely that the majority of Bazar’s Jews ended up in the Chortkiv ghetto, some of them were executed in the Black Forest, while others were transported to the death camp in Belziec.
Albin Shumel, who was born in Bazar in 1897, had his own doctor’s practice in Chortkiv and lived at 28 Mickiewicz Street. The Galicia phonebook from 1939 lists his phone number as 156. He died in 1942 at the age of 45. He was probably shot in the Black Forest when the Germans rounded up the members of Chortkiv’s Jewish intelligentsia who were to become the first victims from Chortkiv.
The forests in Bazar were long ago cut down, leaving only the names Oaken or Grove. This is why the fields of Bazar and the Dzhurynka had no defense against the wind that blew from the east or the snows that fell and dusted the roads. The closet forest was called Chyhor, and the people of Bazar would go there when the first frosts started to pick the frozen sloe which they used to make wine and medicine for their stomachs. They’d buy firewood from visiting drivers who’d sometimes fill their trucks with hornbeam they’d chopped for sale or go to to Beremiany to chop down trees and get a truckload or two to sell over winter.
After the army, our Fedio went to the forest in the Perm region in the Urals. He served his last year and a half there. Sometime in late October they formed a brigade made up of locals because someone had a connection in one of the forestry departments in the Urals. So an eight- person brigade went for a few months via Moscow and then Perm to some district center. In that time they earned pretty good money and a few cords of wood. Grandma suspected that Fedio found himself a Russian woman who dragged him out to the Urals. When we asked Kovalykha, she said that she hadn’t heard anything about any Urals. But the reason wasn’t only the one Grandma Anna had guessed. Fedio was a third-class driver—he’d graduated from chauffer school and served in the automobile batallion in the army. But when he returned, it wasn’t that easy to get a job as a driver on a collective farm: there weren’t enough cars for everyone and you had to start with substitutes.
The three months went by quickly, and in two more the wood Fedio had earned was brought from Chortkiv. Grandpa said there were ten cubic meters. It took so long to get the wood from the far reaches of Perm because the railroad had to stretch from the Ural forest to Dzhuryn, where there wasn’t much of a station and a few cars with goods could be parked on the extra side tracks. From Dzhuryn they had to get the wood themselves. And who could possibly know whose cord was whose? The eight men who felled trees in the Perm taiga had decided that they’d figure out which wood belonged to whom and draw lots once they got batck. The cars from the collective farm, which had been reserved especially for this, transported the strong trunks of the Perm conifers to Bazar in a day, and divided them into eight identical piles. At first Grandma sent Grandpa to check if they’d divided it evenly. I also hung out around that wood almost the whole time, forgetting about the hill, Kovalykha, the ants, and our chickens. It was decided that we’d sell the wood Fedio had earned, and the buyers, hearing of a new lot of good material, began coming almost every day and appraising it: many of them were builders and could appreciate good wood.
With the money he cleared, Fedio bought himself two suits—a dark and a light—a few polyester shirts, and put the rest in his savings book since, Grandma said, we’d be having a wedding sometime. In time, Fedio was appointed driver of the old hazon that broke down more often than it moved forward. It was impossible to get parts for it, and Fedio used to come over in the evenings streaked with black grease, his hands stinking of gasoline. Almost every Sunday he put on his new blue, polyester shirt and his dark suit, shaved, spritzed himself with Russian Forest cologne, and went with his musician friends to play at weddings. He had a German, nacreous bayan in a case lined with soft, green velvet. This bayan was the best in the whole area; all the bayanists recognized this and more than once offered him good money for it. The bayan shone with mother-of-pearl and sounded uncommonly clear. It had a few registers which created different ranges of sound. A tenor’s voice resided in Fedio’s throat, which he bathed in moonshine and cigarette smoke. Near the end of his life, he would sing in the church choir. Even after he’d finished with the accordian he still didn’t want to give up music and it pierced through the humming of the motor of his collective farm truck. Impromptu concerts with moonshine and cigarette smoke often happened at my grandpa’s house. I especially loved when Fedio and Ivan Berezovsky, an accordianist, would take out their bayan and accordian when they’d had a little to drink, and begin to improvise, moving their bellows back and forth as if they were in a competition. They’d start with well-known wedding melodies, and then come up with something resembling jazz. This intersection of baian and accordian, these different tonalities remained on the lime-smeared walls, the tiled stove, the doorjambs, and the curtains. Everything rocked and swayed, chased with a sour pickle and honey, onion, and young garlic. At these moments even the ants and martens stopped coming to the house, and the chickens pecked sleepily at the summer tranquility, filled with the thick smells of ripe plums. These torn musical phrases even made their way to Kovalykha, disturbing her restless, senile sleep. One day she told us that music was coming from the Kardynals’ pasture like rain and knocking on her rusty water spout. And every Sunday they held a wedding.
Fedio, apart from his skills as a driver and at the bayan, especially loved plants and animals. In spring, when the chicks began to peck through their shells, he’d talk to them and warm the yellow down of their wings with his mouth, and kiss them on their little beaks. He wouldn’t let us tie the dog up on a leash, which was why all our Rovers and Spots had deep, kind eyes. He talked to the rabbits and scolded the old mama doe when she ate her newly born kittens. He was amazed by the potato flowers, plum, pear, and apple trees; he knew everything about our ants and our martens. He himself was a slender plant that sat behind the wheel of a truck and carried wheat from the fields, played at weddings, drank moonshine, smoked cheap, strong cigarettes from morning to night, and—when he ran out—wrinkled our dry tobacco and rolled his own in the morning paper.
I remember how he got burned when the wiring of his hazon failed and he threw off his quilted jacket and burned his face and arms up to the elbows trying to put out the fire in the engine. When we saw him all bandaged up in the hospital, he asked if we’d separated the doe from the kittens and if she had enough water, because if we’d forgotten, then her thirst would drive her to eat them again.
I came from New York and found him in agony, and he died a few days later. Behind the house stood the immobile hazon that he’d gotten from the collective farm. It was overgrown with corn and autumn chickens were sunning themselves on the roof of the cabin.
The chickens were already laying the white eggs of death.
At the beginning of September, the rains passed over the Slobidka, so the dogs rolled about the streets in the dust. It smelled of plums and pears; clouds hung above the village perforated by the winds like the cheesecloth used to filter fresh cow’s milk. Fedio could no longer speak. He lifted his arms as though he’d caught hold of the invisible ladder of his death but couldn’t reach it for anything. It was still too high for him. When he saw me, tears appeared in the corners of his eyes and I held his hand, withered like a dry stalk. He could probably already see angels. We buried him on another sunny September day and the road to the cemetery was covered in a blanket of dust, as if to soften his final journey.
I had never wanted to dive into the history of the village of Bazar so badly as I did in the spring of 2012 when the local priest and I stood near the Wolański chapel. This priest wasn’t a local, but he was familiar enough with Bazar’s history; he’d at least heard about Father Vasyl Barevych and the sculptor Serhii Lytvynenko. We were making our way through the cemetery’s high grass and thorny bushes to—once we’d passed the dilapidated chapel and pushed aside the five-foot tall stalks of nettles—read the inscription on Father Barevych’s cross. Serhii Lytvynenko, who’d executed the community’s commission for a memorial with the Archangel Michael dedicated to the Sich Riflemen erected in 1935 and destroyed immediately after the war, we started taking about in connection to New York. Lytvynenko had lived in New York. All that was left from that memorial were a portion of the archangel’s body and, it seems, a wing. Someone had hidden them all this time. These remnants of Lytvynenko’s sculpture were immured next to the new memorial, unassuming in both its concept and artistic execution.
The mid-September weather was dry that year and the chickens were making themselves comfortable along the battered village roads, their potholes filled with fertile dust. They raked up the dirt with their wings and sprinkled themselves with it, perhaps as a way of getting rid of the ants that wound up in their feathers. Some were maybe just sunbathing. It smelled everywhere of the recently dug-up potatoes. The chickens fled from the road when a car would drive by avoiding the potholes. They managed to get away.
In the yard, closer to the rusty gate, I noticed that the cellar was crumbling, how its stones were breaking up, how it was sealing itself up. The cellar was all that remained from the old building; just fifty years ago this yard and everything in it looked completely different. Grandma Anna’s brother, Vasyl Pohribny, had laid the walls for the cellar. Now Vasyl was these stones, perhaps even the stones of my memory of him, a twenty-four-year old sleeping somewhere near Warsaw. But the stones that he laid here seem to want to fade away along with the memory of him, seem to want to leave this yard. But I will keep them here, I tell him, so that here they must become him, Vasyl Pohribny, who was taken in the Kirov district into the Red Army. I even know when he died—January 14, 1944. For some reason, the papers that the soldier from his regiment brought to Bazar haven’t been preserved. But this disintegrating pub and the aged rocks have been. That means Vasyl is with is. It was out the small window of this cellar that Grandma Anna saw her brother Fedio for the last time. She recalled this thousands of times. That means the cellar and these rocks remember sixteen-year-old Fedio Pohribny and Fedio is with us. From here my grandpa Vasyl Kardynal went to the war just to end up in Katta-Kurgan in the Samarkand province where he would survive dysentery and the individuals who checked those dubious Galicians. The weddings of my grandma, mother, and mother’s brother Fedio were held here in this yard. It was from here that Great-Grandmother Yulia, Grandpa Vasyl, and Grandma Anna passed into eternal rest.
Every yard in Bazar could whisper something to me about its owners, but could I remember it all?
I can only write about those whom I loved and knew well, the ones in these rocks that have swallowed their silence.
What does it mean to come home?
What is this thick air that makes me dizzy?
What martens feast today near the dried-up potato stalks? Probably not in our yard. What could they live on there? Our scrawny chickens that wintered on water and potatoes, flew over the road into Kovalykha’s ditch and disappeared among the acacias forever.
I remember the sweetness of those acacias. They would bloom at some point in May and then for some time we would pluck the thick blossom and eat them. Having sucked all the sweet juice from the petals, we’d spit out the chewed up pulp of the flower, wet with saliva and our youthful hunger.
I’ve seen many countries. I’ve met many people and I know that they have different stories. I know that ants carry us away when we’re asleep and why the marten’s tracks are strewn with bloody feathers. I’ve spoken the Bazar dialect, I know words that don’t appear in any dictionaries. They are from the hills of Bazar and the air above the Dzhurynka. Who can learn them? They are passed on at birth, like one’s name and surname, like the right to life and death.
Once and for all.
New York, New York June 2013