I dream about a harvest-ready field. The one with tall ripe ears of wheat rippling and rustling in the wind, it's full-grain glistening in the sun with gold and silver. And with each gust of fragrant summer wind, red droplets of poppies show through the leaning stalks of wheat. A singular plant, or a cluster, or an islet…
Grandad Mykhalko told me once that each blossoming poppy amidst wheat marks a place where a warrior had fallen dead. It didn’t matter what war he had fought in, in what century, and from what enemies he had been defending our lands. The fallen defender’s soul goes to Heaven, takes the shape of a bird, and lowers itself down on God’s hand, while his blood seeps from his heart into the ground. The last drop becomes a tiny seed—to sprout as a red poppy among the wheat in the spring to come.
“But, Grandpa, enemies, too, die in those fields.”
“Enemies are evil. And their blood is bad, none but a barren flower would grow from it. Our land punishes them fiercely, and their blood sprouts as bindweed to choke the wheat, as thistle and couch grass to suck the juices from the soil. So, even as the dead, foes seek to cause harm by growing as nasty grasses and crop killers. Even more mischief they do when the imps in Hell take a day off. Then, the dead foes invade and plunder our fields as an army of ravenous mice.
Do you know what happens next? God then sends his special Wind to the fields. The moment it blows over the ground, all the field poppies turn into cats. These have claws that are the sharpest thing in the world. And these have fangs that strike sparks as they gnash them. Also, the cats are able to see far and wide. That’s where mice meet their end, a death as ignominious as it is final.”
“But, Grandpa, they would trample the crops, wouldn’t they…”
“Oh, almost forgot! No, the cats only go around the field. In the middle of it, though—do you see those stalks of vetch? As soon as the Wind breathes, the vetches turn into storks, with long legs, scissor beaks, and all-seeing eyes. The storks walk in the wheat, all the while forget-me-nots show them the spots where mice are hiding.”
“Is there more, Grandpa?”
“More, you say? Let me see… Here, on the dinner table; there is some bread to eat and more to it. Hey! And there is another ‘more’ coming up with my fellow Fanasko who carries a quarter-liter on him.”
“Oh, Grandpa. You know Grandma will be chiding you. She'll make you go and see the priest for a confession.”
“Nonsense! It’s only to toast our victory. It’s no sin to drink to victory!”
The wheat field is rippling with the gold and silver of folk wisdom. High above, a skylark is chirping, announcing the approaching harvest with his song. Storks are keeping their guard in the field, while the warm wind is rolling the waves of wheat, revealing the red of wild poppy flowers. The red of heroes’ blood.
No matter what war it was or when it was poured, this blood into the ground. What matters is our memory: we should never forget the dear price paid for Ukrainian bread.
As for our enemies… As barren flowers, they live and as barren flowers, they will perish. Our kotyhoroshkos, heroes with indescribable strengths, are shredding them finely right as we speak. Making fertilizers for spring crops.
March 31, 1:37 p.m.
Ukrainian Text by Liubov Burak, translated into English by Ukrainianvancouver team – Apr 9, 2022