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Wednesday, March 01, 2023


by Ellen Sazzman

Bohdan Kulik served in the Soviet military in the early 1980s in Moscow. He's done a bunch of odd jobs over the years since, he says, but in essence, he's a carpenter. He loves to make staircases. Photo by Ryan Kellman. —NPR, March 17, 2022


“My true love is building staircases,” the carpenter explains.  

“You must understand the difficulties of crafting a staircase.   

First the wood must be stained. Next...” The journalist 

interrupts, asks if the carpenter is worried about the war.    


The carpenter mans a checkpoint. Without a gun but with a crate 

of Molotov cocktails. His job: to stop cars, look for saboteurs.  

He pulls out his phone and shows videos of Russian destruction 

farther east in Kharkiv and Mariupol.  


The journalist asks again if the carpenter is worried.  

The carpenter chops kindling, feeds the stove, puts a kettle on.  

He offers coffee, says he’s 62, a pensioner. The carpenter repeats 

the importance of what goes into making a staircase:  


collecting accurate measurements, calculating the slope, installing 

risers, treads, handrails. The carpenter pulls out his phone once more, 

shares photos of staircases he has built. The journalist compliments

the staircases:  “They’re beautiful, but about the war?”    



After one year, a long nightmare, try to 

imagine the beauty of staircases, 

the smell of coffee, the warmth of a stove.  

Not the blood of suffering. Not the bombing.  

Not the decision to stay put  

despite what staircases are made for—  

scaling, leaving, fleeing 

through fumes and smoke, through 

a fine ash that still invades Lviv from the East 

and shrouds all things with the salt 

of a terrible weeping before a mute god.  

Pray there is dust enough

to re-make wild birds and beasts, 

to re-form woman and man, to re-plant.

Ellen Sazzman is a Pushcart-nominated poet whose work has been recently published in Peregrine, Delmarva Review, Another Chicago Magazine, PANK, Connecticut River Review, Ekphrastic Review, Sow’s Ear, Lilith, Moment, Common Ground, and CALYX, among others. Her collection The Shomer was selected as a finalist for the 2020 Blue Lynx Prize and a semifinalist for the 2020 Elixir Antivenom Award and the 2019 Codhill Press Poetry Award.