Anthropology Magazine
Poem / Reflections

Hard Water

A poet-anthropologist honors World Poetry Day with a piece that imagines alchemizing the suffering and devastation of Russia’s war on Ukraine.
Anti-aircraft missiles leave white contrails in a blue sky above Kyiv, Ukraine.

Fadel Senna/AFP/Getty Images

Hard Water - Listen
2:34

I.
That cloud hovering
looks like it came all the way
from Ukraine, sadness
has darkened our skyline.

The rain is hail
shattering the landscape into pieces
of debris that keep falling. It is
hard water pillaging the garden—

water that lays flat like a doll
left behind or a ball deflated
then stepped over.

II.
Humanity at this crossroad:
how did we get here?
how hard must the hearts
of them be
who find value in the pain of others?

What currency? What richness
is worth the tears
of torn families—

where a child can only wave
from a distance                 for the very last time

hug the air
as if it were a parent.

III.
People stumble into many
clutching remnants of morning,

their heirlooms lost but not
forgotten. Lives packed hastily
then dragged along the rubble

looking back into the miasma,
nearly grazed by bullets
ringing ear drums, set to an
orchestra of cries and screams,
babies toddling cobbled stoned streets
alone.

IV.
Those in the heat of agony
need bода because [1] Ukrainian for water. Pronounced “voda.”

we all know that it can become
whatever it fills, that it cleans
and helps to build, that it flows
and it rises and its tides
move with the moon.

Somewhere in the world
it’s raining and the water is soft
and in it, children are playing,
someone’s falling in love.
A child has looked up
smiling at the sun.

Somewhere a boy plays with a ball
full of air, him full of wonder.

Jason Vasser-Elong’s research focuses on identity in a postcolonial context. He is the 2022 SAPIENS poet-in-residence. He studied anthropology and later received his MFA from the University of Missouri, St. Louis, where he is currently a doctoral student in the college of education. Vasser-Elong is the author of the poetry collection Shrimp. His essay “Treading the Atlantic” was presented at the Canadian Association for the Advancement of Netherlandic Studies conference as an introduction to the keynote lecture on postcolonial memory. He also presented that essay at the American Anthropological Association’s conference “Truth and Responsibility” in Baltimore, Maryland, in 2021. Follow him on Twitter @jvasserelong.

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