Summer in Lviv

You were told there would be artists, there would be mountains, coffee shops, shop ladies who smile as they sell you chocolate, organ music in the air as thick as guilt, and museums. Museums of art, literature, history, folklore, and the ancient Ukrainian book. It was the city you spoke about to people back home, explaining that it wasn’t all provincial, barbaric, that there were people here who loved art and maybe loved each other.

In Lviv there would be topography, 3-D maps that would grow up to reach you, streets that would build themselves to guide your feet. There would be clouds that part when you shiver, a sun that would shine on the golden teeth of street florists. The rivers and lakes would draw lines around the city in overindulgent strokes, offering themselves to you without asking for anything in return.

In Lviv no one would be hungry. Those street singers, babushkas belting with their eyes shut, patched in mismatched fabrics would sing not for money but for you, to sing you the spirit of the bodies that lie beneath the cobbled streets whose faces the streetlamps ignore. Their voices are caught down in the groans of Lychakivskiy Cemetery, up into the howls of the wind. Words in a language you thought you knew but don’t anymore, words sung in sounds you will remember years from now, words from worlds not like this. A babushka will drop a word or an apple into your pocket and its weight will remain forever.

In Lviv there would be nights. Nights outside at tables lit by candles, under shadows that soften your curls and the lines of your face, sipping flaming coffee and tipping back shots. Nights in stilettos because everyone wears stilettos, even feminists, even grandmothers. Nights when the sky swirls into the streetlamps like a Nedilko, navy and yellow and glowing with rivers of light. In them would float eyes, would float souls. The dark would grow darker and so would you.

In Lviv there would be men. Men who look at you and men who desire you, who see your ass as two golden cupolas in which they want to worship. They will have degrees and jobs and ideas. They will not have money. You will think about sleeping with them, about what sleeping with them would mean for you, how you haven’t had sex in a year. The men would be older, would love your accent and your body but would have never gone down on a woman. They would offer you beer and sausage for breakfast but you would take a goodbye instead.

In Lviv there would be books and people to read them. Books of the ancients, books printed in a script no one alive can read, books so old and dry they can’t even remember what it was like to be wanted. Books that house insects and disease and secrets of death, and books of saints who live among the unclean. When people would read these books they would fly or haunt or scream or die. Some books would be bound by Ivan Franco, sewn with nationalism and glued with melody. He translated them from ideas into objects and when you touch the stone hand above his tombstone you would do the same to him.

In Lviv there would be a riot in the street and a riot in your heart. There would be fireworks and flags and fists dancing in the air, wailing in arcs overhead. Groups of people, people with minds and willpower and children who would chant for and against things that matter. You would be hit but would never throw. Later you would have trouble remembering if it was all in your head.

So much of the city would be wet with mist that must be vaporized vodka. You will open your mouth and drink.

About the author

Natalie Latta is perpetually lost. She asked for directions in Tallinn, forgot them in Barcelona, and woke up in Crimea. A returned Peace Corps…

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Issue 18 · June 2013

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