Gerald Seniuk is Canadian, retired, and resides in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan. His professional career has been in journalism and law. His published writing portfolio includes poems and academic legal articles. He has privately published a book “Maria – A Reminiscence” as a family history.
The Birth of Pozba
Pozba in May
Pozba in Love
Pozba’s Epistle to the West
The Birth of Pozba
In the time of Pozba’s birth, the earth was soaked with floods of blood
drawn from the lives of murdered husbands, wives, sons, and daughters,
and swept up in the flood was the love that should have met the infant boy.
These are hard metaphors wrung from hard times,
of bullets, bayonets, and knives,
of fathers hung rotting on highlines,
and of sons, missing, now found with holes in their heads,
found in the Communist fields by grandmother-slaves,
found without graves, without names for the dead.
It was at the end of this era of death he drew his first breath, Pozba!
A strange name given by a dying mother,
a name with no patronym, a son with no father,
a non-name, like Lenin or Stalin.
A strange name, a name like no other.
During this plan of horror, this Generalplan Ost,
three million Ukrainians and one million Jews were murdered,
and another million Slavic slaves were sent to rot in German graves.
The Nazis turned Ukraine, the borderland, into the Bloodland.
So yes, Pozba’s time was bad, but not the worst.
There is no worst with mass murder. The worst, like infinity,
has no end. Just add another number, add another death.
The decade before Pozba’s birth was worse,
when the accursed Communists caused millions to die.
How many millions? Maybe four, maybe ten.
We don’t know, they won’t show, the full horror of
The Holodomor – Stalin’s forced starvation of Ukraine.
Faced with such genocide, how did Pozba become progeny?
That’s the great mystery of life, how it never fails
to find a crack, sprout a leaf, and overcome defeat.
So Pozba came crying, demanding care from
nurses, Babas, from anyone who’s there, and
oblivious of the Bloodlands rotting with the dead,
he cried: I’m here. Help me. I’m here. I am alive.
Pozba in May
May Day. May Day. One two three. Their pact was to return,
like doves in May to renew their friendship, then return to their pursuits,
but this time when they met, the spying Soviet mind took root.
How they’ve grown, these four, especially since they dispersed
three years before, each carrying a shard from the shattered glass
off St. Jude’s cloak, now fit together on the table that was spread
with their vodka and their bread, and they recalled the stories of their youth.
Sitting next to her, Pozba could feel her warmth, even as she cuddled into Victor.
They all laughed at the stories Stepan told about his new Kyevan friends, while
over their heads formed the storm into which their lives would soon be swept.
My, how these Russians never slept, even picking up this incipient threat
of four young people with their heads together, perhaps plotting some dissent.
At first it was thought to just send the four a message of what happens
when citizens gather in the square to sow seeds of possible protest.
Thus, they thought to set the hounds, the Komsomol druzhynnyky thugs,
to follow up the scent and if necessary, make an example of one of the four,
just as they did weeks before with Maria Shwed, whom they kicked until she died
and bled her martyred blood into the earth, the Bloodland of Pozba’s birth.
They made an example of this secret nun to frighten the secret priests of this
secret church that dared defy The Great Beast. Using that simple, efficient way,
they thought to sway the obedience of these four, and of the millions more.
But the four shards made them pause. Was this simple code the sign of something
bigger yet, something sophisticated, organized, and posing a real threat?
And so, Plan B was put in place instead. The Soviet spies would watch and wait
and see, as time goes by, who else, what else, might catch their eye.
Pozba in Love
For Pozba, love is hiding, spying, watching her waiting under the walnut tree,
pacing and frowning until she sees her lover running to her down Petruska Street.
They meet, an angel and a bull. She is lifted, swung, nuzzled, and pulled laughing
into his arms, into her bliss. As they hug, laugh, and kiss, the weeping figure
slips further into the darkness of a neural space, nearing the abyss,
until he’s forced back and pulled to safety by a friendly face.
Pozba, is that you? asks the bull Victor, putting his arm around his friend.
You look a fright. Are you alright? I almost passed you by.
Zenya was sure it wasn’t you. Zenya looks away.
What has happened to you since we last met?
Their last meeting, months before, was on the Spring Equinox.
They met to celebrate the lives they almost lost as children, when
years before on the banks of the river Cheremosh, the fierce flow
that had been locked in ice exploded through the frozen wall,
and roaring down the mountain bed overtook the boys,
slamming them down on the high land, where they were found,
unconscious, hand in hand. And so, the tale began, of how one boy
held and saved the other, or as the old ones, the staryi say,
how God saved them both when He saw that neither was willing
to outrun the other, choosing to live or die together.
Pідний брат, kindred brother, Victor would shout at Pozba on
that equinox night, as they hugged and toasted their friendship.
Kindred brothers, clinking and drinking to the evening’s end.
But on this day, Victor stood helpless to save his friend
from the distress that he was in, while Pozba could only look
pleadingly, helplessly into Victor’s face, while Zenya
looked away, haunted by that day when she had found
Pozba standing on her street, trembling and all alone. So, as a friend
she took his hand and took him home for sweet tea and toast.
But then, she looked into his eyes,
saw the love and terror there inside,
and took him to her bed instead.
Neighbour lied to neighbour.
Howling was heard beyond the village gate.
Plotters dived in to snatch the innocent and weak.
All was lost, or so it seemed.
Yet somehow the child was baptized and confirmed
by a non-existent priest for a God that was deceased.
And so Pozba, to survive and stay alive,
lied to his neighbours and his friends, who,
for their own reasons and ends, all lied to him as well.
Such was life in this forbidding place,
this people’s paradise of dead and disappeared,
where the names are erased of those who
dared to question the affairs of state.
How many names erased? How many lives forgotten?
Vasyl Stus is not forgotten.
Vasyl Stus, the Ukrainian poet who died in Perm-Three-Six,
of anti-Soviet/anti-Russian proclivity — of wanting to be free.
Millions of Ukrainians died like him, but Pozba was not one of them,
although he was carefully watched, along with the other three,
in what the Russians called the Four Shards Conspiracy.
Such was life under the Soviets and the Russians.
Neighbours whispered in the night to someone at the village gate,
while shining slits of eyes spied from the forest in the dark.
Then in the day, neighbour smiled at neighbour,
and they went along their way.
By August, the Soviets had their plan.
They showed Victor pictures worth a thousand hurts.
By that month’s end, Victor told them how his friend
belonged to the forbidden church, and Pozba
entered that Gulag-spawn known as Perm-Three-six.
Gulag Perm-Three-Six, that evil place
where Stus had died, the year he vied
for the Nobel Prize, but received
instead the number nine,
stamped on a piece of tin,
nailed to a short post
driven in his grave.
Until you’ve talked with the stooped and dead,
do not say that Stalin died,
or that God is still alive.
And do not forget the poet,
Pozba’s Epistle to the West
How can you say life got better after Stalin died?
Do not let them spread such lies.
Have you even spoken with the dying or the dead,
or those stooped by the Gulag staring vacantly ahead?
Have you only spoken to the lively, well-fed?
If you did, did you ask how they survived,
how they lived when many others died?
Do not say life got better after Stalin died.
Don’t you know he’s still alive?
Pozba survived the Gulag,
thrived in sovereign Ukraine, then
died in Bucha, murdered by a
Russian invader taking target practice.
Time after time Russia finds its new Stalin,
risen phoenix-like from the ash of the last,
and in his good time, Stalin Redux begins
to kill once more in Ukraine.
That time is now.
The Bloodlands flood again.
© Gerald Seniuk
* The title “Bloodlands” is from Prof. Timothy Snyder’s book about these events.
** Pozba is a fictional character created to help tell the story of Ukraine, a story that is encumbered by misconceptions, historical inaccuracies, and antagonistic propaganda. Although born in Canada, I am of Ukrainian heritage and visited Ukraine as a consultant. Some of the personal stories about Pozba are based on actual experiences related to me during my visits, for example, his unfaithfulness revealed by intimate pictures taken by Soviet agents and used by them to further their aims. Other stories, such as that of the poet Vasyl Stus and the martyred nun Maria Shwed are taken from public sources. The general theme of Stalin redux is born out by historians such as Timothy Snyder, who coined the term Bloodlands to describe the horror Ukrainians have lived under, Pozba was born into, and the world can now see by the current invasion of Ukraine by Russia.