Exercise In Dreaming During the War

A preface to dreaming: Meager have been my attempts to help the fleeing – friends, distant family, strangers overwhelming all my apps; to devise the escape routes from the bombed and crumbling Ukrainian cities, from places that used to hold my memories. This frantic effort ate away most of my waking time during the first weeks of war. I became news-wary, war-saturated to the brim. If I could vomit, I would vomit war.

When the burnout moved in, I refused to recognize it, to reconcile with it, saying to myself, “Wars don’t take days off,” “This is my punishment for being on the fringe of war,” and “Helping won’t hurt me.” And then, there were dreams.

The Bomb in the Next Seat
I am one of the bombs in the cluster. The bomb next to me looks like the metal version of Humpty-Dumpty, with its blotched face of unhealthy yellowish white, with the transparent puffiness of predetermined doom. I sit in my tight bomb compartment like a passenger of the international flight, almost expecting a flight attendant to offer drinks in accordance with my economy class ticket without extra leg room. I do nothing. I am a nothing-to-do kind of a bomb. Like all my neighbor bombs whose flat faces I see in the row behind and in the row ahead. If I find it in me to break out of the dream-state, I can change the course, I can detonate the bomb in the next compartment – or do something else as pointless, as suicidal. Yet I do nothing. The bomber draws a circle in the invisible sky. We the bombs oblige.

Dreaming of Bags Signifies an Unexpected Parcel Delivered to You
I am inside the MRI machine. The machine is old and squeaky. Close your eyes, says the digitized voice. I close my eyes just to see a shabby cosmetic case, the color and shape of a rotting eggplant. It rotates in the air, speeds towards me in some sort of suspended, gravity-defying rotation. I try to catch the thing as it slightly opens to uncover the tasteless neon color of its lining. It brushes against my hand, its ink-stained, worn, cheesy body fully unzips – into an explosion. I try to get out of the machine, but the narrow tunnel pulls me inside, chewing me up, slicing me into slides. 

Without waking up I think, what unexpected parcel did my people receive right now? What could’ve broken into their windows or walls? Who did I just lose there, on the ground?

Breast Feeding
I nurse an adult, a strange woman who’s wearing a babushka kerchief. She is biting my breast, chewing off my nipples. I look down to see if I’m bleeding. Instead, I see a long line of people, mostly women and children of all ages, waiting to latch on, spreading on the floor, getting lost in the perspective, stretched beyond the walls of my room.

What do I make of it? What do I make of the assault on my ability to give, to produce milk of caring, 
                                                                 of the mismatch of demands,
                                                                 of the complacency,
                                                                 of the boundaries of burnout
while caring for those who went into the childlike state, who had lost their industry, their autonomy, and have only one basic need, to stay alive?

And how do I keep alive my spirit, ever guilty of not being bombed like them?

Galina Itskovich

3 Questions for Galina

What was your process for creating this work?

In this work, I've been trying to find words to talk about the systematic demise of the country where I spent the first half of my life, about the inconceivable cruelty, about betrayal on many levels, and about the drama of helping. Writing is my tried-and-true coping mechanism, so I attempted to heal my fresh wounds by putting images into words.

What is the significance of the form/genre you chose?

I couldn't sleep in the first weeks of the war. It felt terrible to go to bed and to drop the lifeline of the calls and texts, as if I was giving up on my people. This was a sign of my survivor's guilt, so I was happy to regain the ability to sleep and dream. I take dreamwork seriously and listen to the messages from the unconscious.

What is the significance of the work to you?

This work is a product of what I've been doing since the beginning of the invasion: having turned myself into a human hub, connecting refugees and services, desperate people without resources to those who could help, providing psychological support to civilians and volunteers. I operated in the crisis mode without a true opportunity (luxury!) to process. This work allowed me to become more self-aware and to start the search for the meaning. 

Galina Itskovich graduated from the Hunter College School of Social Work. She practices psychotherapy, teaches and writes poetry and prose in two languages. Her work in English appeared in Poetica, Asian Signature, Unlikely Stories, Cardinal Points, Former People, Harpy Hybrid Review, The Ekphrastic Review, The Write Launch, in almanacs Global Insides & Contemporary Jewish Writing, and elsewhere. She also authored one book of poems (in Russian). Galina Itskovich lives in New York City.

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