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John Jeffire

As Russian Forces Pummel Ukraine, My Russian Friend Messages Me

You teach many student who anime fan?
    —Yes, many students. Very popular here.

In Kharkiv, the subway gushes
Like a severed vein.
A woman named Oksana
Attempts to smile and answer
A reporter’s questions for which
There are no answers.
Her son says he is Jaroslav.
When asked if he is scared,
He shrugs, one hand palm down
Tipping left then right,
Shyly saying “So-so.”
The reporter says he is brave.
He smiles, embarrassed.
He is too young to understand
This is not war.

Japanese like the cartoon, much fun.
    —True, many people enjoy cartoons.

Not war, a “special military operation.”
The dead are not dead.
They just cease to live.
Fear is a gas seeping through the subway.
This is not a war.

I stay in Athens once and meet guy from Boston.
He say Golden state Warrior invite him
To play basketball.
    —It’s possible but I find that hard to believe.

Oksana has a bag of food and some water.
The food might last one adult
A day at most.
Her two children form a flak jacket.
This operation is very special.
Putin ridding the world of Nazis.
This is not war.

Now I take hookah. You?
    —I am watching the TV about Ukraine. It’s terrible.

Crude barrels bound to rocket.
World markets babble chaos.
The Russians liberate Chernobyl.
Reactor 4 frozen in concrete sarcophagus,
Pripyat, the red forest, ruled by dogs.
In dry times the fires still rage,
The winds gift poison to the trees.
Never, never a war.

Please, sir, I cannot talk of war.
Not safe, big trouble if catch me.
But I think the Boston man lie.
He say he beat Jordan one vs one.
    —Yes, I think he was lying too. Many tell lies.

Those huddled in the subway
Tremor with the detonations above.
Air raid sirens echo to London,
Beirut, Gaza, Tel Aviv, Dresden,
Vukovar, Haiphong, Rangoon, Tulsa,
Guernica, Kabul, Aleppo, Tianjin.
Cruise missiles crash blind
Into an apartment building.
In an echoing subway tunnel,
Lights gasp and then return.
In a place where there is no war,
A mother named Oksana
Looks up, catches her breath,
Gathers her children closer.
    —22 Feb. 2022
John Jeffire was born in Detroit.  In 2005, his novel Motown Burning was named Grand Prize Winner in the Mount Arrowsmith Novel Competition and in 2007 it won a Gold Medal for Regional Fiction in the Independent Publishing Awards.  Speaking of Motown Burning, former chair of the Pulitzer Jury Philip F. O'Connor said, “It works. I don't often say that, but it has a drive and integrity that gives it credible life....I find a novel with heart.” In 2009, Andra Milacca included Motown Burning in her list of “Six Savory Novels Set in Detroit” along with works by Elmore Leonard, Joyce Carol Oates, and Jeffrey Eugenides.  His first book of poetry, Stone + Fist + Brick + Bone, was nominated for a Michigan Notable Book Award in 2009.  Former U.S. Poet Laureate Philip Levine called the book “a terrific one for our city.”  His short story “Boss” appeared in Coolest American Stories 2022, which won the International Book Awards Prize for Fiction Anthologies.  In 2022, his novel River Rouge won the 2022 American Writing Awards for Legacy Fiction while his poetry collection A Temple for Tomorrows was named one of three finalists.  For more on the author and his work, visit
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