O Russia, my birthland, I pity your destiny…
Russian troops are bombing Odessa.
Putin’s generals, death and deputy,
craving Odessa, a fallen Odessa.
As desperate missiles descend on Odessa
poets and sages come to its rescue.
They summon the shadows of fellow singers
who once lived and loved in this city of cities.
They wrote in Yiddish, Ukrainian, Russian,
Hebrew and Polish, Tatar and Italian.
From verses of the past they are rising like zealots
not to allow the murder of Odessa.
Pushkin is cleaning his dueling pistols,
he won’t be a party to this Russian pestilence.
Bialik is counting the wounded and the dead, now
the city of slaughter is here, in Odessa.
Akhmatova, lithe like a Black Sea deity,
unsheathes her father’s damascus naval dagger.
Simon Frug, the Jewish Aeolian harpist
thrusts a stick hand grenade under his belt.
Sasha Chorny, the scion of Odessan pharmacists
is preparing bottles of anti-tank cocktails.
Jabo, fiercely smiling, like a conjuror at play,
commands a unit of harbor patrol.
Lesia Ukrainka, Khadjibey’s salty air,
takes an old shotgun from the dacha’s attic.
Bunin trades in his ornate walking stick
for a Mauser rifle with a sword bayonet.
Volodymyr Sosiura mounts a Maxim gun
on the dome of the Opera House at dawn.
Febrile Bagritsky, from Deribasovka’s roofs
sends postal doves to Ukrainian troops.
Their voices and weapons form a sound defense
to deter Russia’s weapons of death.
Undefeatable and ambidextrous,
we shall always fight for you, my Odessa.
Maxim D. Shrayer is a bilingual writer in English and Russian, a 2012 Guggenheim Fellow and winner of a 2007 National Jewish Book Award. Born in Moscow in 1967, he left the former USSR in 1987 and lives in the Boston area. His books include four collections of Russian-language poetry and a collection of English-language verse.