Leaf Writers' Magazine Interview

The day of my twenty-first birthday I flew to Ukraine on a travel grant which allowed me to work with orphans outside Chernobyl Zone 1. (Zone 1 is still inaccessible to civilians, but these orphans lived in the zone nearest to it, and were riddled with diseases and malformations caused by the toxic radiation.) As I was on a bus heading to Kiev for the weekend, an old man boarded with three large bags of apples. He had been picking for his family, having to traverse nearly an hour each way. I have travelled in many countries across four continents, and yet, I have never quite experienced anything like what I did in Ukraine. Exhaustion and sadness seem to permeate the air; yet there is also hope and love. Hard work is a staple for most that live outside of the cities.

I have always found the gift of fruit akin to the gift of life; it is the gift of friendship and nourishment. The man simply gave us these apples because we smiled. It is the type of moment that steals the breath. Poems seem best at encapsulating such moments, as poems themselves are brief, but can say so much.

I wrote “Ukraine” hours after meeting the old man while watching the apple sit on the desk next to my bed. I usually write at night, as I did then. The morning and evening hours—closest to the subconscious—seem to be the most creatively fertile. The poem was never edited, or changed from its original form; though I usually do edit my poems, “Ukraine” simply said what it needed to say the first time. Sometimes, seemingly rare, writers are offered these little blessings: apples and poems.

ukraine

there is an old soviet train

running through communities

of communist orchards

and the family planters

remain towns away

bussing each day

to plough and tow

the potato

the seed

and today a man

who remembers more

than the beatles’ song

back in the ussr

turns to us

the ukrainian

the two americans

and hands

us each an apple

from the garden

where he plucked three

bags this afternoon

and he compliments our smiles

our laughter

the look of better days

under wrinkled eyes

old russian tongue

© Julie Bolitho. “Ukraine,” Poem. Leaf Writers’ Magazine. Poem and author interview. Leaf Books Press: Spring/Summer 2010, pgs. 34 & 35.

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© Julie Bolitho 2018