The Vagabundo Circus
(translation by John Hennessy and Ostap Kin)


I sell tickets for magicians and mimes,
I stand by the entrance with the key like Peter.
O small-town children with cherubic lips!
The tent’s like an orange. Come inside, come in!

We walked through the sands of cities like tax collectors,
covered with stardust and pollen from poplars,
filling the alleys with azure and light,
conquering Naples, Marseilles, and Leopolis.

The ringmaster is the yogi and psychic, Ananda
(a scarab sits on his shoulder like an epaulet).
He conjures flowers, and a bright rose,
flawless and voiceless, grows from his chest.

Cotton candy is food for angels and birds,
like the cocoons of Kokand, like a veil of clouds—
what a sweet trap for small-town girls,
desire shines from them like a lantern.

O children of evil times, sown in the vastness
of pastoral wastelands where bedlam still echoes!
Come inside, come in! A single wave of the hand—
and souls will shine like white sloe in ditches.


I sell tickets for jesters and fakirs,
for flickering lamps and giggling apes.
O money-bags with the face of a vampire,
here’s a parade full of vamp for you and your ladies.

The acrobat Le’s sticky and shiny body
twists and coils into a ring like a snake.
The magician Vendetto will subtly and skillfully
pierce you with knives while the orchestra flourishes!

And watch for just a moment (viva, dear mortals!):
the hypnotist and spiritualist Azril de Frankenstein,
the tamer of sirens, centaurs, and werewolves,
will bring you back to life, from the verge of dark secrets.

And what will happen here! the schizophrenic dances
of bankers and prostitutes, of countesses and butchers!
O people full of life, o spiders in a glass,
for you—a nervous waltz, foaming at the mouth—

a pyrotechnical madness! and smoke screens—
it’s only a circus from the outside, but deep darkness within!
And it’s bottomless! Both nuns and playboys fly off,
somersaulting head over heels down its black tunnel.


I sell tickets for horses and camels whose flanks
have been lacerated by golden stirrups.
O vigilant watchmen with the eyes of bogeymen,
with eyes sans eyes, with eyes in the back of your head!

In our fragrant barn where the warm, wet bodies
of animals shine, where their sated spirits rest,
you come in wearing your cape, your pelerine—
you hear the earthy chorus among the blood-like ash.

And having lifted your cold eyes to paper stars
where an ace motorcyclist spins high loops,
you listen to a trumpet in the roaring engine—
what future bomb is he preparing you for?

Search for dynamite! Let the obsessive detective,
thorough as hell, explore the backstage realms.
He’ll rummage through tents, robes and suitcases—
and find there only swallows. And patched tricots.

L’illusion! Deceit! Security guards have gone astray,
lost in the circus as in a dream. I read those dreams:
leaflet swallows slice through walls and mirrors
like the fangs of a bat—bites like medals on their necks.


I sell tickets for zithers and tambourines.
This fragile music slips through your hands.
O street philosophers and cafe prima donnas!
This is Solomia’s solo. That’s how the river flows.

Her voice is higher than the bending of steel bars,
higher than a lemur meowing like a cat.
Orange orangutans become gentler now,
and stars, not holes, pierce the cardboard sets.

The ring slowly spins. High above, Solomia sings.
Her trapeze trembles like a living wing.
We live in this Babylon—each as they can,
what if she falls, will her singing become death?

But without her we’re rot, faceless and speechless,
selling our names on the cheap markets.
O small-town poets in broken-soled shoes!
Be sure you tell everyone that she still sings for us.

There’s her voice! And her love!
RainrainrainrainrainrainrainrainBut now I’ll be quiet.
This only seems like a circus. In reality, it’s a realm, a land.
I’m shutting down the machines. And I’m closing the cashbox.
I’m closing, closing everything. Bim-bom! And tra-la-la.

Yuri Andrukhovych is one of the most prominent and influential Ukrainian poets. He has published more than a dozen poetry collections, fiction books, and collections of essays, and his work has been translated into many languages. A recipient of various awards including the Herder Prize (2001), the Erich Maria Remarque Peace Prize (2005), the Leipzig Book Prize for Understanding (2006), the Angelus Prize (2006), the Hannah Arendt Prize (2014), and the Goethe Medal (2016), Andrukhovych lives and works in Ivano-Frankivsk.

John Hennessy is the author of two poetry collections, Bridge and Tunnel and Coney Island Pilgrims. He is the co-translator, with Ostap Kin, of A New Orthography, selected poems by Serhiy Zhadan, Finalist for the PEN Award for Poetry in translation and co-winner of the Derek Walcott Prize, and the forthcoming anthology Babyn Yar: Ukrainian Poets Respond.

Ostap Kin is the editor of Babyn Yar: Ukrainian Poets Respond and New York Elegies: Ukrainian Poems on the City, and the co-translator, with John Hennessy, of Babyn Yar: Ukrainian Poets Respond and Serhiy Zhadan’s A New Orthography, finalist for the PEN America Award for Poetry in Translation and co-winner of the Derek Walcott Prize for Poetry. He co-translated, with Vitaly Chernetsky, Yuri Andrukhovych’s Songs for a Dead Rooster.