the road beyond the horizon
by Iryna Tsilyk
featuring the photography of Ruslan Hruschak
Translated from the Ukrainian by Vitaly Chernetsky
Be as it may,
every year begins and ends with
You will be standing somewhere on the porch
of your multi-apartment homeland
looking out for the first star
above the dark eyes of nervous cars,
and the three kings would kindly offer their gifts:
Americano in a paper cup,
30 liters of fuel: that should do for now.
A long road lies ahead.
The east and the west, not to mention the north and the south.
Labyrinths of icy highways
heavily wounded by military equipment.
Blood clots of checkpoints.
Home cooking in roadside cafés.
Overturned trucks like beetles on their backs.
To the left, to the right, straight ahead –
no matter how many roads out there
all the same you would die and be born
only in this country.
All the same you would never use
those other road signs.
But each time when you look out for a star without GPS,
that somewhere, from some other direction
I am looking for it as well.
In your emergency suitcase there’s everything you need:
a cup with a broken off handle,
your daughter’s porcelain ballerina,
a thick album with photos,
a quilt made of mother’s old dresses,
your father’s binoculars,
a stamp collection,
the unfinished dissertation,
a box with Christmas ornaments,
naïve paintings by a distant relative
and a bag of St. John’s wort
that you picked yourself at a trusted forest clearing.
Everything packed carefully.
Everything close at hand.
You never know
what you might need on your next journey
in search of yourself.
The map of this hiking trail is quite familiar:
a forest, a clearing, a hill, a pit.
You focus your camera
the familiar terrain changes rapidly:
the cliff of a nose,
the slopes of temples,
a hollow in the chin,
the forehead covered with tracks,
a flowerbed of moles on the right cheek—
everything jumps around,
spreads out in all directions,
flees in confusion from settled places,
searches for rescue: this way? or that? which one’s better?
“Watch the birdie!”
you say cattily
and press the button too soon,
catching the shadow of the sun.
In your country house
there’s an old china cabinet
with squeaky bent doors
and a distinct smell of dust and vanilla.
It is impossible to take this china cabinet outside—
it is too big
in all its dimensions.
They brought it in before the house was finished.
The thought about a prisoner inside someone else’s body
is a bit disturbing.
And on the contrary:
in the shed outside there’s a chest,
so large it cannot fit through any of the doors.
So it lives in this eternal exile.
But they are the same age.
They still remember each other.
“How are you, my sweet?”
“I’m OK, I keep going; I’m not who I once was,
I have started to fall apart, woodworms gnaw on my body,
mice pester me,
through the cracks between boards
I can always see something:
gray snow, blue rain, the spires of lupine, the swing . . .
And what about you?”
“What could I do? I stand.”
Too close, too far from one another
they grow old on their own separate ways,
Scissors paper rock.
Here’s your rock,
the philosopher’s stone for turning sand into gold.
Here are the scissors, see them hang on a nail by grandma’s bed.
And paper. Here’s the map you drew of the treasures in your garden.
Although no, the garden is no more,
and grandma too is no more.
What remains is gold:
the yellow stream of sand beneath your sneakers
there where you can see the other shore but there’s no way to cross . . .
Choose the rock.
Wrap it in the carefully cut out piece of paper
and carry it with you as a reminder
that you cannot win or lose anything.
Such are the rules.
And all you have now
is a group family photo with holes instead of faces
and material evidence left at the crime scene:
a sucked-on caramel,
the trace of a child’s sandal.
Here it is, the badly maimed twentieth century.
The time of untold stories.
embroidered with a needle made out of fishbone
on the coarse prison camp cloth.
Hey you, twenty-first century person,
don’t be afraid, they won’t scold you.
You can step out from behind the curtain,
you can go on living
as if black-faced shadows weren’t pursuing you,
as if everything could always be restarted from a clean slate:
mom, dad, me,
a crooked small house, the chimney, the road
that leads somewhere beyond the borders of the album.
And please, nothing extraneous beyond those borders
You hit the brakes spontaneously,
suddenly noticing a large pond
in which you swam some twenty years ago,
take out the camera,
walk around its still waters for a long time,
searching for the right angle
but it doesn’t come—
that special shot.
Perhaps it would have come out better as a bird’s-eye view,
you think in passing.
And someone up there—let us imagine—also looks out,
sees you and thinks,
how much you have grown, my friend,
how much you have changed,
how much water has flown and spread out in circles,
let me give you a hug.
Finally you return to the car
not having stopped a single moment,
including that ineffable one
when this strange snow suddenly started falling,
so impossible at this time of the year.
The fragile specks stuck to your jacket,
your hair and hands,
danced for an entire minute, maybe two,
landed on water’s black mirror,
immediately dissolving in it.
Just like the pictures that never got taken.
Or the unrealized wish
to raise your eyes upward.
Yesterday on TV they showed snow and war.
But here it is warm and quiet.
And even poppies bloom
on the tablecloth.
Mother, for some reason young,
sets in front of you a bowl of yellow soup.
A lazy bee crawls inside the double-paned window.
And you too,
for a moment you are suspended somewhere between these worlds—
the hands have a sharp smell of parsley,
the clock keeps ticking,
the cell phone connection is down.
“Tie your shoelaces,”
“otherwise when you walk you will stumble.”
And you tie them obediently,
even though you have no intention of going anywhere,
and you have become an expert at falling right.
“What does it mean, right?” mother manages to ask.
“That’s when it hurts where no one can see it,”
you don’t have time to answer her
and for a long time you will lie in this alien bed
in this alien city
with your arms intact
your legs intact,
like a shiny new penny.
The road beyond the horizon
is a bit more than simply a road.
having a map and some common sense,
one can hope for something quite concrete,
the road beyond the horizon is scary in its immensity:
you never know what to expect from it.
It’s like a well
where a coin fell down and still hasn’t made a splash.
But perhaps things are much simpler,
since from each road beyond the horizon
somewhere grows another road beyond the horizon.
And from that one, still one more.
And from that one as well, still another new one.
Everything’s just like with people:
Between points A and B—such-and-such number of lives of your clan.
And what is there beyond the horizon, you will never find out
until you reach the edge.
Now this terra incognita
became honest as it never was in summer:
fields crisscrossed with weak sunlight,
thin arms of trees bound in snowy straightjackets
yearn only for peace.
It’s so quiet
that you can hear
blood coagulating in the veins of your land.
And still spring will come,
sweet, caustic like gorgonzola.
Birds will fly in,
settling again in the frost-ravaged skeletons of nests.
Everything will start smelling of oily dirt.
Tenderness will flow from everywhere.
Each seed will look for a warm moist hideout.
You will walk for a long time,
the wind will lick greedily your cracked lips,
the quagmire of time will splat under your feet,
and it will be as if
all the homeless of this world got their own names,
all the wanderers reached their homes in time,
all the wars were finished,
all the scattered stones gathered,
and simply walking on is enough
even if you are not entirely sure where you’re heading.