"Facts" and Other Poems
Introduction by Vivian Huang
Poems by Taras Riehl
In his five poems, Taras Riehl gathers pieces of himself and mixes them with destruction, chaos, and conflict as the Russo-Ukrainian War goes on. As an experimental writer, Riehl’s goal is to “catch and criticize the truth and ugliness of nearly everything” in his pieces and take the reader on a journey of a world falling apart.
In “Testament For An Occupant,” Riehl primarily captures the newfound hatred
Ukrainians had for Russian culture. After the war started, the pieces in his personal life slowly began shifting and leaving. For instance, his health conditions made him unable to enlist as a soldier. Feeling ashamed that he could not participate directly in the war, Riehl wrote “Facts”. On top of this, his girlfriend went to Spain and his friends were volunteering or living in other regions of Ukraine. Trapped at home with “no gentle soul to be around,” “It Is Often You And I Are Depressed, Ukraine” was written during this time of social isolation.
Despite being emotionally low, Riehl used writing to voice his inner struggles. “Land” surfaces the nostalgia and fear after the Lviv attacks in March of 2022, since he lived in the city from 2017 to 2020. During this time, Riehl’s dystopian and psychotherapeutic thriller was also published in a local literary magazine, “Dzvin.” This is also how his journey as a writer began. Referring to the American Beat Generation— a group of writers that rebelled against literary formalism and American social culture— Riehl wrote “Beat” to showcase the writers’ personal lives and attitudes towards art. He wanted to create something like a “literary bit,” a small “raindrop of emotional and intellectual experience” for writers.
Although Riehl’s works may be heavier than other pieces of our time, he shows that writing can be a catalyst for self-realization and eventual healing. Even if he copes with his emotions in solitude, Riehl’s intentions are admirable. When asked what readers should take away from his poems, his answer is simple yet powerful: “Ukraine is close to death. But we are great lovers with her.”
sleepwalkers and husks
of mans’ ancient power
fill border towns
with hundreds of healthy bodies
ready for war
a century-old fear crawls among them:
hot firearms squeezing against their cheeks
leaving the shore from their mothers, scared wifes
their oldest sons, their tiny daughters
in front of a sheet of paper
drawing our flag and stars in the sky
and in de-occupied yellow fields
and they realize faith put upon men's shoulders
will sprout boundlessly in every heart
multiplying by hundreds in the speeches of artists
and restorers of our "tomorrow"
for in faith
you find power
for in truth
you find victory
"It Is Often You And I Are Depressed, Ukraine"
It is often you and I are depressed, Ukraine.
Sometimes it is much worse: we drink our thoughts away.
I imagine an outdated salvation from all that...
Come, my beloved, to me; We will cry out to 24 oblasts, “Where is God!?”
Can it... can it be that a ray of saint innocence
will melt the audacious snow in April?
My dark joke... No!
We will find out the answer from our soldiers...
There on the front-line.
"Testament For An Occupant"
her white hair,
blue and red wines,
elf-like ears, defiantly sharp,
tender voice like mother's milk
flowing through valleys
"the deceit of beauty," I whisper,
as I put the muzzle into her mouth.
even with the sacredness of a woman,
of a goddess...
for me, you're
an ancient corpse.
It burns, screams, and bleeds
among panel ruins—
the country's heart
against blackened walls;
the wide fields are alone
as they lull the seeds
of its grief:
of unsprouted compassion.
pull my scattered thoughts together
fragmented: that is the new life code of Ukraine
without the vision of tomorrow, I cling on to rough scraps
of the horizon wrapped carefully in cigarette smoke
of the memories that my university town threw into
visiting corners of the great saintly past
and power that used to keep me awake, turning me into the sonnet
of the evening street and now makes me hit the brakes
as if the fuel has been diluted with some extraneous chemicals
grandad “Zaporozhets” now broken down for good
and I don’t heel to my takes, defining the current state as clinical:
it is too trivial
just as a ferocious unacceptance of war seems too simplified for me
a want to intravenously inject languorous nostalgia of the nights
that stopped appearing in the repertoire of my happiness
leaving a badly masked fear after itself, a youngster’s fright
before the horror that gladly alternates with the unknown of tomorrow
and earlier I would have embezzled a similar twisted thought
with a new pretty phrase; today the most expressive exclamation will be mute
and the crass automation which saves one from uncertainty
any action curve in the role of an accompanying gift
to those quiet steps towards gratitude
for the old untouched things, for the “flea market heart salesman” vacancy
do not abandon me until that last unrestrained breath—
I am your beloved son.
Content Editor: Riya Bajpai
Translator: Kateryna Kishchynska
PLit Editor: Vivian Huang
Interview with Taras
Borisz. 23 July 2007. https://www.istockphoto.com/vector/alienation-gm165074398-3837058. Accessed 24 September 2023.
Wokandapix. https://pixabay.com/users/wokandapix-614097/. Accessed 24 September 2023.