Yuri Arabov, “War comes out of raw cracks”

War comes out of raw cracks (from Contemporary Russian Poetry: An Anthology. ed. Bunimovich & Kates)
Yuri Arabov

War comes out of raw cracks
and from oaken writing desks.
She sits among objects on larder racks,
at the bottom of cooking cups, in heads pressed together.

Her brother is a hunter who lost his whip
and got out of bed hairy like a wild boar.
You’ll get plucked like a leaf, ripped,
and fly to the desert where the wind wanders.

Where, in the forest belt’s dark fog,
a black mushroom scatters spores and shrivels
where Christ still sits upon a log
and won’t end his talk with the Devil.


War is real because it is immediately detestable. Even bullies and killers, those who like inflicting pain, find themselves cowardly and panicked when war has been fully brought to them.

So what do we do with the numerous, contradictory associations we have regarding war? The emotional logic doesn’t add up, yet war is all too real. It seems both unjust and sloppy to label war (or a state of anarchy/tyranny) inherently illogical, inconsistent, non-sense. Those of you familiar with my impressions of Persepolis know this has been on my mind. Given how rapidly things change in a state of war, how bizarrely and basely people behave in short time spans, what are the implications for political philosophy? We can say man is more or less a conventional creature, sure. But what of our larger concepts? Nobility, education, voice mechanisms, justice, social contract reasoning, even the nature/convention distinction itself all seem imperiled by the speed things change. If it is so difficult to grasp post- (or pre-) political phenomena, then what sense does it make to have a conventional study of the creature positing conventions?

The poem begins not with war as change, but with two tricky associations to reconcile. Decay (“raw cracks”) and a penned vision (“oaken writing desks”) may have nothing to do with each other. Think through how much is implied in the mere hint of writing: is a desire for revolution the same as addressing injustice? These potential origins of war could have nothing with perceived everyday pressures. Maybe we go to war because we want more (“larder racks”); maybe we have nothing (“bottom of cooking cups”); maybe we’re just frustrated (“heads pressed together”).

It does make some sense, then, that the brother of war is anger-frustration with at least the guise of necessity. And it does make some sense that war (a “she”) has a brother. We see clearly, though, that these associations are more ridiculous than logical. War as violent change might be a good place with which to start our considerations over. Ripped from trees like a leaf, we are now in a way directly experiencing war. Our claim on the future is null; our lives are suspended. That desert might as well be the forest. The mushroom produces a future, but at its own expense. The worst part about war is that good and evil are cosmic forces, talking and negotiating beyond us. As if our perceptions and doing of good and evil to each other were nonexistent. Our political science and rhetoric are limited in the face of others losing everything. What we ourselves are, in war, is unclear.

1 Comment

  1. On the other hand, war starts from “cracks” in the relationship between countries. The decision to go to war and the declaration is done by the people behind “oaken writing desks”.

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