Lisa Biletska, Kyiv

jan 24

It’s becoming harder to communicate “out” of the middle. Especially, it seems, facing the blizzard’s drift. Fat flakes clump to eyeballs that see little, anyhow — maybe a thin pearlescent ribbon in sewage-water fog, maybe scum-green flats of n-gon ice doing slow twists down the Dnipro. Frozen fingers don’t type.

What would I say? I am afraid! I am not afraid. It’s alright! It’s not alright. I will conceptualize this moment in writing! Like it’s necessary, like it hasn’t been done before.

Things may happen in moments, but some catastrophes are the natural appendages of a mounting anxiety. Pools at the end of a meandering waterslide, a promise.

For the first 15 years of my life, I craved it, willed the fabric to rip. Drew graves, spoke with thunder. Ardent weaver moonlighting mutiny. For the next 15 years of my life, I still willed it, less ardently. It became apparent that I could easily kill myself, for example, and that I did not yet want to.

feb 12

Recently I just haven’t been able to be still. I want to rove like a roomba. Directly in the flow is when it’s best to write, though it’s harder and your fingers freeze right off. Now my brain has been wiped clean by hormetic stress. I prefer it to hermetic stress. It might seem like you’re full of bits of thread and electric shocks, like you’ll burst if you stay still a second longer. But it doesn’t have to be that way. All you have to do is put your work device in a bag and set out into the city. Walk through your neighborhood and purchase a hat, purchase a sourdough pie with sauerkraut, gaze wistfully at chocolate potatoes, at nougat parallelepipeds lit up in a glass vitrine, thinking all the while about how all this might be blown to smithereens next week or the week after — not likely but not impossible — glazed ruby cocoa-covered hazelnuts exploding ecstatically every which way, and then realize that compared to the ruby cocoa-covered hazelnuts, you don’t actually give a flying fuck, you’re full of random energetic impulses but you seem to have lost the ability to emotionally respond, ecstatically or otherwise. And anyways, maybe if you left the house sooner, there wouldn’t even be any impulses.

He says, “I am in the middle of a frozen bog with stunted pines and I have not heard from you in 5 hours, do you no longer love me? Have you unloved me?” Which one of us is the seducer?

I think I am communicating regularly, but it’s really a shot in the dark. I believe that what exits my mouth is a decodable message, not suspect, something appropriate to the conversation, but I cannot be completely sure. Pretending like I feel something about anything was kind of fun but is getting a bit boring.

feb 15

O. will arrive any minute. She was not going to come until the end of the month, but we may get invaded tomorrow, and I might disappear with the money. She’d ask for next month’s too if she could but she can’t.

K. says she is not going to give Putin any gratification. She is not altering her life in any way, besides the fact that she is leaving to the Venice Biennale and won’t return for a month. I hope she gets to leave. I thought for a moment that I was annoyed at this, or sardonic about this, or sneering at this, but I am not, because we shared a bed and secrets and it became less clear where one of us begins and the other ends.

feb 16

How I am preparing for war:

I have abandoned my plan to pack an emergency bag.

I am traveling to Bereznyaki to buy four Soviet-era glass salad bowls.

A: I’ve got a similar situation.

L: I am too fatigued for self-preservation.

A: Same here. Today I am in pajamas, exclusively.

L: If we are taken hostage, I really hope there’ll be something fun or tasty there. Truth or dare, tag, pastries. (My present level of consciousness makes me think my brain has been assaulted by some chemical. But no, just information. I think about this for a moment, then forget what I was thinking about and back to pastries.)

A: Exactly. I can’t concentrate at all. Time is viscous, I’m exhausted, I forget about all my actions halfway, then suddenly recall them. Some kind of situational dementia.

L: Same same same.

The curse has far to go before it runs itself out and the curse is time.

Head stuffed with wool and neck with a crick, darting unseeingly between feeds that don’t even feed anymore.

I do not sense myself.

I am anxiously binging every way I can.

Zelensky doesnt see troops withdrawn from the border.

Biden doesnt see troops withdrawn from the border.

My Russian friend says, “I was so relieved today to hear Biden is canceling the war. It occurred to me that I have been worried. I just realized what people in Ukraine must feel.”

I am both exhausted and nervously energetic.

I say, “Figuratively. You mean canceling figuratively, right? As a joke, right?”

He says, “It is very useful to receive screenshots from Ukrainians discussing the situation. There is a tendency here to place equal blame on Biden and Putin, because it is psychologically comfortable. This inner picture is easy but incorrect. It is a psychic solidarity that breeds deformations, adaptations. Adaptations are life-sustaining.”

I say, “You calmly reflect. You are imperturbable.” I think, “You are so sensitive and responsive.” I feel I am always surprised.

I am so tired and burned out. I want to sigh with relief and break out of this whirlpool. But this isn’t possible, though the day has somehow passed and it was the day towards which everything was clotting. But nothing changed.

He says, “I felt that you are living through something bad, something inaccessible to me.”

Everything is unacceptable. It is worthy of rage. What it does to us.

feb 17

a kindergarten was bombed in Lugansk and now somebody must carry the blame. they’re burning papers and something else that makes black smoke at the Russian embassy.

on Sunday I am having six guests, and I’ll suggest we use my oracle cards to divine on any question of their choosing. this should be good; the NYT says card reading is on the rise because of the uncertain times we live in. I dont actually know if dinner will happen because we might get invaded before Sunday, but I’m preparing as if it is.

mechanical things are fine. I am working and going to the gym. the more delicate and complex layers are nonexistent. I am not thinking or feeling or creating anything. I am not in that sort of mood. I am in the mood to survive.

Russia is escalating. Russia has expelled an ambassador. Russia has installed a pontoon bridge in Pripyat. Russia is moving towards an imminent invasion.

I would like a cherry bun.

feb 18

Meditate and do some banal breathing exercises and time flows slower. Not viscous time, stretchy time. You can stuff more things in it.

feb 19

How the war will save me with breakthrough pain.

I have not slept but I am meeting with V. to explore Zhukov Island, something I’ve been meaning to do for years. Not with V., never with V., but maybe it’s wartime, and I am experiencing sudden impulses to come closer.

I am running low on money but I am buying sparkling wine on sale and stringing doilies into a garland. Tomorrow six people are coming over for a potluck dinner. I don’t care how I’ll look or how I’ll sound. I want to light candles.

I haven’t been able to since June, but now I’m reading cards again. I asked L. if she’d want to. Though she scares me a little. But that’s precisely why I want to start with her. As if the discomfort, some gap between us, is exactly what makes me feel more human. Pontoon bridges not only for Pripyat’.

Grandmother says occupation wasn’t so bad. She was in Kharkiv and her mother washed dishes in a hospital. The Germans lived behind a curtain.


How to heal yourself of wartime anxiety:

Meet with V. to go to the water pumping station and Vodnikov Island, but never actually reach either. Instead: Walk through old oaks in a steppe savannah, across the occasional thawing lake, and talk about pigeons, fathers, guinea pig dolphins, scoliosis, keeping goats, catching siskins, types of memory, the freedom of maritime professions, walking westward, vampires, 16mm film, the polonyna, stalin’s metro, trains, and anything else you can think of. And yes, even war.

feb 20

1 AM

A.: Will he attack or won’t he?

I let every guest around the table cut the deck in turn. Pull the top card. It’s “Chernozem”. The one Ukrainian tribute card in the deck.

An equivocal message. Rich land. Great starting advantages. Privilege. Prize.

Will he or won’t he?

feb 21

K. bought a butterfly.

K: When she came out of her cocoon, something I wanted to say to myself emerged and hit me square on the forehead. Her wing is crushed, she drifts this way and that. No magnet in her head. I sat for two days over her. She was meant to be a sex machine, exclusively for my pleasure. She became a mandala. Like an injured child. And a new reality grew out of that new center.

K. forms her fingers into something like a branched sphere.

Are we in a collective delirium?

K: That double rainbow.

L: That split-second mushroom cloud spliced into a video about laser epilation.

feb 22

Somehow I walked all the way to my grandparents’ house while reading the news. There are some people, I hear, who manage not to do it. But it always turns out that they live or are close with someone who reads. When I lifted my eyes I thought I could see unity in others’ faces. Towards the evening, I just thought everyone looked tired.

feb 23

I have lost access to some components of myself. I. said this often happens to him when he is ill or tired. I. says a joint snapped and my fantasy body went away and a solid body appeared instead. I said there may be a loss of innocence but I often feel helpless and scared like a child. Later, I. said (only a period separates us apparently) that he feared something solid and transparent arose between us. I said, it’s only wax. I was thinking of what to remelt the dinner candle into. I. must be afraid of solid things, but I think he craves them too.

Plants are good meditational objects. There are two things touching: a lavender woolen string and the gray fur of a pussy willow catkin. The lavender string hangs down from a garland of doilies, emergency decorations from Sunday’s anxiety dinner. The pussy willow branches were lying under their bushes in the sand when I went to clear my head on Truhanov Island, so I didn’t even need to use my knife to pick them. Pussy willows are only called that during the spring. At other times of the year, they are regular willows. There is also the possibility for an instantaneous transformation: user Sima says that any ива (willow) that is brought to church on Вербное воскресенье (Pussy Willow Sunday, Palm Sunday), automatically becomes a pussy willow (верба). Gleaning residues of religion’s microeconomics is gleaning’s outpost. The Torah and the Bible say grapes, olives, dropped things, are all for the poor and for strangers. In 1933—the height of Stalin’s starvation genocide of Ukrainians—the Law of Spikelets said 159,973 gleaners should receive 10-year sentences.

It’s hard to write anything after this but there’s one more thing about gleaning.

To woolgather is to daydream. When you are gleaning from a moving body that perambulates, you begin to wander yourself. I. says that when I describe things to him, he sees them as though they are made of colored wool. They are actually constructed of pixels, fragments of still and moving images I send him over Telegram. I wonder if he is dreaming.

Feb 25

yesterday i woke up as if a sphere of light entered my body and into my veins

it was as if suddenly the world was alive and it was after me. the air was thick and hot and palpable.

everything that happened in the next 15 hours happened impossibly quickly and slowly. my left thumb is bruising internally from typing. in the metro, people ran every which way with bags. only one woman sat on a bench in the middle of the platform with her two cats in a see-through backpack.

should we play monopoly?

now I am in the basement with the family from #13. the basement was built by german POWs. the family is kind and offer me coffee and chocolate and blankets.

at least our shrimp will defrost


didnt you decide to defrost something?

shrimp, but I put them in the fridge. at least i didn't put the water on to boil.

now they've put me on the big green satin chair with the gold leaf design. i will preside over this moment, not simply sit.

feb 27

oh no, time warp, I will have to reconstitute later.

I believe we are all about to die and I can’t tell any of my friends because it’s not good for morale.


Fortune-telling for L.

L. writes me:

When I was a child I had a vision and a prophecy that I will die at 36.

I have a couple days left till I’m 37; I just had severe Corona; I see repeating numbers everywhere, absolutely everywhere; three months ago I met a person whom I considered a guide to some degree. It was important to me that you and I meet to read cards.

During my last walk to the woods I said goodbye to everything, cut ties, gave my thanks, let go.

There are 2 days left till I am 37 and I am finding this death drive so exhausting.


I write:

The top card concerns what awaits you. The bottom card is complementary. I am reading this as a promise of freedom. I do not see death at all. Longevity, health, power, cleanliness, serenity, diversity. Some kind of transition to a coil of complete maturity is possible. I read the bottom card as regarding the prophecy. The prophecy appeared as a "unit of necessary elemental independence", intertwined with you during the "first trials". It fulfilled certain desires, which was valuable.

It seems to me that what will die is the need for this prophecy. This is not an annihilating explosion, but a new loop. Maybe it’s not very attractive, a bit boring. How could it compare with the death drive.

For some reason I want to say sorry :)


here’s something parents do in Ukraine when they want their children to eat: they bring up a spoonful of something to the child’s mouth and say “for mommy”. then they bring up another spoonful, “for daddy”. then for grandma and grandpa. for the dog. however many spoonfuls. my grandfather would reidentify the plate: mashed potatoes are sand. slices of beef tongue — flat rocks on the shore. garlic pickle — palm tree. all flying into my mouth at terrible speeds on a silver-steel jet plane.

beyond force feeding, it occurs to me now, this is another transgression: a sacrament. a metonymical transfer. here’s a thing about lack of boundaries: it prepares you for death.

perhaps this is why I am visited by spells of calm regarding the increasing possibility (“Putin orders nuclear deterrence”) that I will soon die. when your body has never quite been yours, it is easier to recognize that sure, I’ll be gone, but I am not very different from the people who left or were never here. and some of those people share my thoughts and ideas. things that are important to me will continue. also, the tragedy of my body, my life, dissolves in the collective tragedy of our bodies, our lives. I listen to the thoughts of my friends, around town, around the country, and I think it would be an honor to die together.

feb 28

found myself in the apartment with the telescope

ate porridge, oil painting of the couple hugging

now we are going to the store and to give blood

guard from konotop stuck in a laura ashley store

45% off unique mongolian cashmere

money falls out of pocket — “ah, thats historical”

woke up this morning with the sense that we are going to get nuked

V. keeps running around and talking on the phone and L. keeps begging him to stay still in the basement

i can understand wool now

wool instead of brains

i used to think it was offensive

how fast do rockets fly? if we get a call from bucha (where they have no water, no food, but they have phones) telling us 20 rockets just flew past heading towards us, is it of any practical use?

shows us how to make “hedgehogs”, birds singing in the background

I am beginning to grow tired, a longterm kind of weariness that is aching in my eyes and nose and back and joints. It isnt just from sleeping in strange places or sitting all day. It is from the news and from my neighbors, with whom I spend hours every day.

mar 2

wow I think ive had refugee syndrome at least since I was 15

mar 4

we don’t take showers because it doesn’t seem important

sharpest sensations of the past 12 hours:

  • Russians attacked the Zaporizhia nuclear power plant, ten times the size of Chernobyl;(NATO says it will not get involved)(where my together-life cthulucene OOO rhizomatic community-oriented decolonial climate crisis scholars at, why so silent)
  • rooibos kombucha had a strange after-taste

P. and I found a giant head of Circassian cheese at the “Milk from the Farmer” store

V.’s parents have no electricity or gas and can’t leave their basement

people are drinking rainwater from drainage pipes in Mariupol

K. and S. are panicking and want to run to our house in the dark

P. and I laughed at jokes and barely acknowledged background gunfire and explosions while we took a walk in the park

I have not been sheltering during sirens for 3 days now

I realized I won’t leave P., or K., or S., or grandparents, or P.’s parents behind either way so I might as well pretend none of this exists

L. turned 37 and is still alive, by the way