Orchid by Vasyl Makhno

Translated by Olena Jennings

Vasyl Makhno is a Ukrainian poet, prose writer, essayist, and translator. He is the author of thirteen collections of poetry and most recently the book of selected poems Poet, the Ocean, and Fish (Folio, 2019). He has also published a book of short stories, The House in Baiting Hollow (Vydavnytstvo Staroho Leva: 2015); a novel, The Eternal Calendar (Vydavnytstvo Staroho Leva: 2019); and four books of essays.

Makhno’s works have been widely translated into many languages; his books have been published in Germany, Israel, Poland, Romania, Serbia and the US. Two poetry collections, Thread and Other New York Poems (Spuyten Duyvil, 2009) and Winter Letters (Spuyten Duyvil, 2011), were published in English translation. He is the recipient of Kovaliv Fund Prize (2008), Serbia’s International Povele Morave Prize in Poetry (2013), the BBC Book of the Year Award (2015), and International Ukrainian-Jewish Literary Prize “Encounter” (2020). Makhno currently lives with his family in New York City.


The folded orchid resembles a cocoon
The road that the jeep navigates
is as sloppy as a watery dog’s eye
I realize it smells like peas
I drink in the dust in the air
like fish grease

perforated clouds cling like gauze
from the sky’s bowl into the crooked pot
from which the dog laps up water
I huddle in the jeep all day
guarding the orchid
for her – one of the poets

If the lapping dog’s life is shortened
If the flame of the orchid vanishes
then every heart that you see
sighing–will leave in the air the essence
of the orchid from which flows
its green soul

If the jeep washes its stomach with gasoline
If an orchid can live in your throat
I immediately prepare a lifeboat for her
I look to see if that dog in back is sad
and his eyes
are like pulsating stars

I bought the orchid like one buys crutches
I gave her my hand like we were going to a wedding
I wrapped her in a blanket of Cyrillic letters
I wanted her body to soothe
my bleeding heart
its sadness


Olena Jennings is the author of the poetry collection Songs from an Apartment and the chapbook Memory Project.  Her translation with Oksana Lutsyshyna of Artem Chekh’s Absolute Zero was released in 2020 by Glagoslav. Her novel Temporary Shelter is forthcoming in 2021 from Cervena Barva Press. She holds an MFA from Columbia University and an MA from the University of Alberta. She is the founder and curator of the Poets of Queens reading series.

Back to Issue: Spring 2021