Iryna Shuvalova – learn to lose – translated by Patrick Corness

learn to lose because those not versed in this science sit down at the table of life
as a butterfly alights on a child’s hand – trustingly, not knowing that it, too –
this contraption of weightlessness and awe — can suddenly fail

those who are not versed in this science live like waves on the shore
playfully running hither and thither, thinking
that they are free at any moment to run out of the sea and rush up the overgrown steps
from the beach to the trolley-bus stop on bunin street to the edge of the earth
to those other waves – the strangers beyond the edge
and the sea will allow it the sea will let them go

learn to lose – first of all yourself – learn to see yourself off
on yesterday’s long road past the garages
having nothing to say only in despair
holding a damp hand with a damp hand holding
in your mouth a slippery hot heart that beats so loudly
that your temples are left throbbing and after
who can recall where you said goodbye, where you let go

learn to lose learn to be a bare tree without leaves
learn to be a chair missing one leg
a smiling snub-nosed face in a photograph no longer known to anyone, even mother
learn to be a worn-out coat discarded for a new one
a book about pioneers in the village library
a favourite toy bunny missing a paw left on the rubbish heap

learn to be a thief who steals herself from herself
a sleepwalking thief who robs from his own drawers and chests,
stuffing them instead
with moonlight rotting leaves birds’ feathers

go to the station and learn to see the trains off without departing
fall in love forever with the dark-haired guy sitting opposite you on the metro
with his birdlike gestures and slightly crooked slightly sad lips
don’t say anything let him get off after four stops

practise losing as one practises archery concentrating in silence
as a novice tattooist studiously inks with an indifferent needle
his left hand, then years later inks everything over in black

ink it black
you boy you girl
you boygirl
you womanbird
you grassstone
you starsea
you stopcomma

Iryna Shuvalova is a poet and scholar from Kyiv, Ukraine, based in Nanjing, China. She is the author of five award-winning books of poetry, including Pray to the Empty Wells available in English (Lost Horse Press, 2019). Her most recent and fifth book of poetry Stoneorchardwoods (2020) has been named book of the year by Ukraine’s LitAktsent Prize for Literature and received the Special Prize of the Lviv UNESCO City of Literature Book Award. In 2009, she co-edited 120 Pages of ‘Sodom,’ the first anthology of queer writing in Ukraine. Her poetry has been translated into 23 languages and published internationally, including in Modern Poetry in TranslationThe White ReviewLiterary Hub, Die Zeit, and others. Her forthcoming academic monograph ‘Donbas Is My Sparta’: Identity and Belonging in the Songs of the Russo-Ukrainian War explores the impact of the war on Ukrainian society. She holds a PhD in Slavonic Studies from the University of Cambridge, where she was a Gates Cambridge scholar, and an MA in Comparative Literature from Dartmouth College, where she was a Fulbright scholar. 

Patrick Corness is a literary translator and a Visiting Professor of Translation at Coventry University. He is a member of the Society of Authors and the Translators Association, London, and of the European Society of Authors. He studied Slavonic languages and German at the University of London (SSEES & UCL), Moscow State University and Charles University Prague, and was a university teacher for most of his career (Russian and German at Sunderland, Coventry, Warwick). Since 2000 he has focused on literary translation from Czech, German, Polish, Russian and Ukrainian, building a broad portfolio of publications (poetry, drama, novels and short stories, as well as articles on translation analysis). He is presently researching and translating the Ukrainian poet and dramatist Lesia Ukrainka.