Here are three new poems about the war in Ukraine by Lowry Pei. They can be read together with the Ukraine poems by Pei already published in “That Day” and “Please Answer Now” .  Or maybe they shouldn’t. It might be hard to go about your daily business. 


July in the Ruined Courtyard
after a photograph for the New York Times by Emile Ducke

The benches are still there where parents
watched children on swings that are still there too
the swing set is leaning now, its knees bent to slow its fall
insects hum in the grass the same as always
a ladder is tilting up out of the earth
like a dud rocket that didn’t explode
the blooming weeds are as high as a child
and someone must have planted those tall red flowers
to look at out their window
that lost its glass like all the rest
each rectangle topped by deep black smudge
where smoke and fire poured out
as everything inside went up

what was left of the roof fell in
to a black loam of subsiding char
where if anyone had time to search
for weeks or years
a bone or two might yet be found
a picture frame, a fork, a ring
or who knows what that did not melt
or burn or otherwise return
to atoms
on which the sun shines
and the rain falls
now that all is open to the sky













An Hour at the Park
After a photograph for the New York Times by Nicole Tung

After they grow up will they remember this day
the two of them on the seesaw in the overgrown park
where no one bothers anymore
to cut the grass that never forgets
how to be itself despite missiles
will they remember the birds
who don’t seem to care when sirens sound

or that across the street
was our old apartment torn in half
empty windows open to every wind
the floor we walked on ending in air
or that I stood beside them waiting to catch
if one of them fell off
(no one stood between the emptiness and me)

Will they remember the day their papa left
for training, how to not be killed
by those who came here to kill us
or the absence that moved in when he was gone

Now he is dug in somewhere to the east
to wait out the latest bombardment
alive below ground on a floor of dirt
if he’s lucky
if we are

Where will they be living
whose language will they have to speak
will they realize by then
this whole time I was falling



Roadside Assistance
after a photograph for the New York Times by Ivor Prickett

Why did they send me there
did they think I would tow away flattened wreckage
One was a Hyundai, I could see the first letters
on the remains of the bumper
less than half of a car, the right side was just gone,
the trunk like crumpled tinfoil
the roof didn’t exist anymore
there was no inside
the driver’s door was shut on nothing
tied to the driver’s outside mirror
was a grimy piece of white cloth
meaning I’m a civilian, don’t shoot
it sat diagonal on the road caught in the act of turning
across oncoming lanes to avoid whatever the last thing was
the driver ever saw

Beyond the Hyundai there were two more
one crushed to a knee-high lump of metal
that you could only tell was a car because one wheel survived
and leaning on this lump was a truck tire
but there was no truck anywhere in sight
beyond that was an ancient Volvo
more intact but burned, right rear tire melted to the road
its hood up carefully propped
as if someone had thought to repair this blackened shell
that would never roll anywhere again
the passenger side door was open
and something was lying on the ground beside it
covered in a black plastic tarp
The Volvo looked as if it had been driving out of
the gas station that didn’t have a scratch on it
sign displaying the price of gas and diesel
as if a tank might pull in
and a soldier would say Fill it up