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Feature: Back From the USSR
Maria Shun


Translated from the Ukrainian by Judith Baumel and Askold Melnyczuk


--Years ago, the original site of the UN had been that of an abattoir which Rockefeller bought and donated for the land beneath the skyscraper that would become the United Nations Headquarters.--


Above the numbered streets between E. and W.
Flyers are flying
In different alphabets
From Roman to hieroglyphics
Newspapers are roiling
Everywhere are the flowers on which Mister Rockefeller rests
Having believed in his own fleshly immortality.
Express and Local offices, almost
Like trains in America,
Illuminate themselves with signs.
They are endless.
And the clocks are not giving anyone time to rest.

The offices in New York
Are all caravan wagons
in one grand UN
And their telephones filter
From time to time they change the signs
On the doors
They withdraw some country
(“space for rent.”)

A montage of days and faces
In waiting rooms
Is the only normal thing
Its movement of mailmen and FedEx men
With their paper airplanes – plates…
Lunch break in New York
Is too short for
Mid-day siesta.

With her meter-long lacquered nails
She turns the wheel of the car
Not by hand but by nails.
The pedicured feet stick out in front of the car
And the rhythm
Carries the car
“Baby, Oh Baby…”
In five minutes
Within that head –halfway between
Latina and Black—(Imagine that!)
A salsa hot like a taco
Makes a ballroom dance
And too soon that head and those nails
Have to sit down behind the front desk
And monotonously repeat
“Doc’s office, how can I help you?”

Southerners never mange
To be on time in the northern mega-New York.
For them there is too little of everything,
Of food, of sex,
Of the many self-prolonged siestas and fiestas.
They can’t put themselves on the tracks
Of these Anglo Saxon, self-contained nails
Obligatory stockings
Restrained lipstick.

From time to time – silence.

And that is why they push
And push and push everything open.
They drag out lunch breaks
To their own dimensions
As long as they need .
They spread European hips
In the Grande Culo.
On their front teeth
Gold caps and hearts for Valentine’s Day.
One heart is not enough.
They push the English language closer to Niagara and the Canadian Mother
The only obstacles
Chinese and Moscow pop.

Slowly, they groom themselves,
Increase their size and buzz,
Clash and become “roosters”
Ever more willing
Even the small Asians grow,
Their feathers puffed out
In the Grande Culo
In The New York Scene.

Above the offices
The express and the local,
The windmill buildings,
The air-conditioned buildings,
The whole plateau of the city
Trembles above its pedestrian beds
In the Grande Culo play
all the minorities of the city.
She rules the sky and the delicious FedEx
And food delivery guys
And the sex machines.

Hers is a wide-tooth smile
All thirty-two flashing
Telling about another fast food and another doctor’s office.

Every morning they greet her:
How can I help you baby?
Bon Appetite, Cutie,
My Kitten,
Ever more willing
(and never mind those Galician roosters, those French roosters)
Everyone turns to dark meat
Frying everything in bacon
Saint Rockefeller predicted it all
This single meat market that is the UN.

Lonely Anglo self control
Pushes itself into a dinosaur dump
Of pubescent memories,
Of a national symbol
“To Eat and What to Eat.”
And “who will eat us”

White rules in peristalsis,
Eastside and Westside
Along the Hudson.
The Grande Culo grows ,
The Big Kishka, The Large Intestine,
The cymbal sticks play
They all beat her with the same question
“So How You Doing?”
“How you been?”
And haven’t you gotten lost in her
In her earthly flowery swing
In the meat market
In the UN of Sir Rockefeller?



Maria ShunMary Shun is the author of numerous books of poetry, most recently, UN from Zhupanskoho Publishers. A Lviv native, she is a graduate of the Faculty of Foreign Languages of the State University and has worked at the Lviv Institute of Ethnology. Since 1995 she has been living and working in New York.


Judith Baumel is a poet, critic and translator. She is Associate Professor of English and was Founding Director of the Creative Writing Program at Adelphi University. She blogs at Her most recent book of poetry is The Kangaroo Girl.

Askold Melnyzcuk is a novelist, critic, essayist, editor and translator. He founded Agni magazine and Arrowsmith Press. He has taught at Harvard University, B.U. and currently at University of Massachusetts, Boston. His most recent novel is The House of Widows, an Editor’s Choice selection of the American Library Association’s Booklist as one of the “distinguished fictions of 2008.”


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