Yuriy Tarnawsky



i’m in an or
chard or
something walk a
mong trees a lit
tle boy sudd
enly springs up b
efore me sm
all half m
y size eyes the
whole face smil
ing look
ing up at me i
realize it
’s my fath
er who die
ed years ago no
thing strange ab
out it stran
ge that he’s a
child he wan
ts to play gr
abs my hand pulls
me along co
me let’s p
lay laughs i le
t myself be pu
lled but feel re
luctant the
re’s some
thing wrong a
bout it he’s m
y father af
ter all he
keeps on pull
ing me ur
ging come c
ome run sud
denly again he let
s go of my
hand and run
s real fast laugh
ing i’m con
cerned he runs too
fast may fa
ll down h
urt himself i ye
ll slow
down slow
down you’
ll hurt you
r self he does
n’t listen run
s laugh
s there’s a wood
en shack up a
head sm
all more lik
e an out
house than a
shack he runs a
round it now real
ly fast he’s b
ound to hurt him
self sto
p dad sto
p i yell the
back of my n
eck num
b stop he
doesn’t listen dis
appears be
hind the ed
ge of the st
ructure i
run like ma
d after him ro
und the corner th
ere in th
e tall grass he
lies face
down some
thing dark shi
ny wet can be
seen on the grou
nd next to
his hea
d i bend d
own look y
es it’s bl
ood the
re’s a big ro
ck in the grass nex
t to his head he
fell and cra
cked his head o
pen on it i s
ee his sku
ll is spl
it open some
thing white l
ike magg
ots stirs in
side it it’s h
is brains they
’re still ali
ve that’
s why they mo
ve but he’s
gone for sure can’t re
cover from an inju
ry like that i stra
ighten up wal
k away the
re’s no poin
t in my stay
ing i can’t help
him the sc
ene around
me is different
now grassy like a sa
vannah tall t
rees with slend
er trunks li
ke palms grow he
re and there bend
ing graceful
ly i look with curi
osity no they
’re not palm tr
ees they’re hu
ge dande
lions with gian
t white puf
fs on top a gus
t of wind come
s blowing some
seeds detach th
emselves float o
ff like white pa
rachutes into the
sky it’s full of th
em and of whi
te clouds the
y look the
same you can
’t tell the two a
part they’re so
beautiful in
the blue sky life
’s so beauti
ful i walk



it’s late eve
ning dusk not
early dawn for
sure it’s cer
tain it’ll get dark
er there’s a thin r
ed and gold
streak way on
the horizon as wh
en the sun sets so
it must be dus
k i’m in a field v
ast flat plow
ed digging with a sp
ade in the grou
nd there’s a wo
man next to
me on my lef
t it’s my mo
ther whom i’ve ne
ver seen she die
d before i was born i
mean giving b
irth to me i turn to
look at her she’s
dumpy old dressed like a
peasant woman in a lon
g skirt and a ker
chief she’s ben
ding down sud
denly she straight
ens up and loo
ks at me her face is
young young
for my mother’
s friendl
y i’m pleased i
have a mother t
oo finally and so young
looking she
smiles her teet
h are white like t
he kerchief on h
er head look heal
thy i smile back we
go back to diggin
g my spade hi
ts something h
ard i bend down p
ick it up it l
ooks like a pota
to round and gra
y i straight
en up and look at
the thing turn
it around in my fin
gers it’s cake
d with dirt with ho
les in it look
s strange for a po
tato my mother takes
it from me and clean
s it off it’s a tiny hu
man skull the siz
e of a pota
to she says we ha
ve to dig the
se up they
’re all over it’s
a cemetery we
have to clea
r it for new gr
aves she toss
es it over her should
er and goes back
to digging i do th
e same we keep on dig
ging find sk
ulls and toss them be
hind us it goes on
like that the light
gets dark
er in the end yo
u can’t s
ee anything then th
e scene chang
es i’m in a big
peasant style kit
chen next t
o a stove my mo
ther’s on my left the
re’s a huge pot on
top of the stov
e steam’s co
ming out of it she’s cook
in something it must
be potatoes there’s
that unpleasant sm
ell of boiled pota
toes in the air then
she’s pushing some
thing hot and round in
to my mouth i don’
t want it it’s too
hot and i don’t like b
oiled potatoes but
it feels differ
ent than a po
tato it’s hard li
ke an egg re
minds me of so
me thing i lean b
ack and look
at it it’s one of
the skulls we
were digging up it’
s crazy why is
she feeding i
t to me? she pushes
it back against m
y lips i keep them
shut keep leaning
back she per
sist tells me to o
pen my m
outh take a bi
te it’s goo
d i won’t do it th
ough get ang
ry try to push
her hand away sh
e resists keeps
on pressing the th
ing against my lips t
eeth a little more and
she’ll succeed i grab
her hand pull i
t away angri
ly scream st
o stop sto
p what mo
ther would fee
d her son boil
ed skulls?



i walk along the
beach it’s l
ike in the fin
al scene of fellini
’s la dolce vi
flat emp
ty the sea on the
left rough a
low gray sky a
bove strong wind
blows off the wa
ter the sea is f
ull of white
caps my hair b
lows gets i
n my eyes i
squint sud
denly a black dot ap
pears in the dis
tance a hu
man fig
ure on the ed
ge of the water it
grows as i near
it seems slen
der tall with lon
g blond h
air a young wo
man in a long whi
te dress like a ro
man toga? yes that
’s what it is i s
ee as i come near
her she stands with
her back to
me doesn’t s
ee me i come up
to her stop t
urn her a
round her
face is like a draw
ing done with a sh
arp pencil on crys
tal clerar wa
ter barely dis
able but per
fect beau
tiful she smi
les her hair stream
s in the wind en
velops me we’re
joined by it i
try to kiss her can’
t find her lips she lau
ghs it doesn’
t matter there
’ll be time f
or that we
move on w
ith our arm
s around each o
ther she’s th
e one i’ve b
een looki
ng for all my
life now i’ve foun
d her i never th
ought i would now
we’re one the
wind keeps on blow
ing gets stron
ger the sea
rougher the spray
envelops us we g
et all wet cling to
each other laug
h it’s fun but sud
denly there
s’ water all a
round us it’s as
if we’re on a boat
it heaves under
us tilts this
way and that goes
up and down waves
spill over us i’m a
fraid they’ll w
ash us away separa
te us we cling to
each other i grab onto
something stea
dy like a rail
ing with one
hand clutch her to
me with the o
ther the wa
ter keeps on co
ming i hold on to
her with all my
might but the
sea’s strong strong
er than me th
en a huge wave spill
s over us there
’s water all a
round we’ve bee
n washed away in
to the sea sepa
rated she’s go
ne i’m des
perate try to stay a
float but search
for her with my
eyes don’t see
her it can’t
be that i’ve lost
he i’ve just found
her i open my mou
th to scream to
call for her grow
cold i don’t kn
ow her name how
can i call for
her find her if i
don‘t know her


From the volume Modus Tollens: IPDs//improvised poetic devices
(Jaded Ibis Press, 2013)
Published with the permission of Jaded Ibis Press

Read Marc Lowe’s review on Yuriy Tarnsawsky HERE.


Yuriy Tarnawsky has authored more than two dozen books of poetry, fiction, drama, essays, and translations, including the books of fiction Meningitis, Three Blondes and Death, Like Blood in Water (all FC2), Short Tails (JEF Books), and most recently The Placebo Effect Trilogy (JEF Books, 2013), consisting of Like Blood in Water (revised edition), The Future of Giraffes, and View of Delft. His other most recent book is a collection of Heuristic poems, Modus Tollens: IPDs (improvised poetic devices; Jaded Ibis Press. 2013). He was born in Ukraine but raised and educated in the West. An engineer and linguist by training, he has worked as a computer scientist at IBM Corporation and professor of Ukrainian literature and culture at Columbia University. He writes in Ukrainian and English and resides in the New York City area.


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MadHat, Issue 15, Winter 2013-2014