On Seeing a Photograph, of a Handful of Ukrainian Soldiers, in a Tree, Drinking a Toast

Here’s to drinking, and to being drunk;
before our ancestors had letters,
they were drunk—
I don’t doubt drunkenness the better.

As heat of vodka loftens ear and speech,
echoes of half-remembered verses
lift the speech,
til mind into pure mind disperses—

But wherefore subtle mindedness, at war?
Better in crude mind’s superstition
die at war,
than be by ceaseless thinking bitten.

To drunken forebears, yes, but I go on;
but drink—and we will drink another—
I go on:
and pour a full one for me, brothers,

For here’s to brotherhood, and health, and sun;
to sitting in the drunken trees,
the hot sun,
and all our boys! and all these yellow leaves!

That we had life at all is grand enough!
or slept in wind and rain, or suffered—
good enough—
may we come to passes ever tougher—

And drink one more, to Death, illiterate:
to perishing from earth, and never,
never, never writing it:
and no man made, by me, more clever.

Vlada Shevchenko is a second-generation Ukrainian immigrant raised in Hamtramck. She has written and spoken predominantly in the Russian language, the mother tongue of her parents, but current events have resulted in some crisis of identity around that. Sometimes it seems like the most moral choice is to relinquish language altogether.