Maria Galina is a major poet, critic, translator, and novelist. She graduated from Odessa University, majoring in sea biology, and took part in several sea expeditions. She has been a professional writer since 1995, and she is the winner of many prizes for her prose and poetry.
Communiqué № 1 Celestial phenomena in these lands are astounding in their variety first I would name the many vivid rainbows that can be observed from early spring through late autumn the double and even triple arches that form and exude luminescence their far end reaching into distant hills and dark groves as if embracing golden domes of heavenly light I also personally observed one brief summer night the flight of a fire snake which rushed across the firmament from East to West hissing and scattering fiery sparks, according to local beliefs this snake visits soldiers’ widows disguised as their husbands most likely he was rushing to visit one of them also in August which they call “month of the sickle” I saw a dry ring of fire encompassing the four corners of the earth bursting into flames and fading away without a sound also at noon gleaming lakes stretching far into the distance that disappear as one draws nearer (I observed something similar in the Berber lands) also I saw a triple sun on an especially frosty morning also a rainbow ring around the Moon also during our daily march something flying in the sky shaped like a cross accompanied by a loud sound that resembled cloth being ripped while the sound seemed to be chasing the object under observation I leave the explanation of this phenomenon to learned people also when we halted for the night I observed the stars breaking loose from their regular places and forming new shapes vivid vortices and whirls however this I attribute to the concoction which locals stuff into their short pipes Communiqué № 2 they post guards on hilltops at the sight of the enemy the guards let out a special signal the rest the ones working in the fields at that time toss aside the ears of corn already collected rush to hide in the hideaways set up for that purpose this vigilance of theirs deserves the highest praise just as the arrangement of their dwellings their love for children and innate cleanliness waste sites are always set up as far as possible from food storage and sleeping areas these animals are friendly and harmless similar to our marmots but bigger their upper jaw holds two enormous teeth sticking out they collect dry leaves and grasses for the winter in an amusing way: the one collecting lies on its back and holds the bunch in its paws while two others drag it by its short tail to the burrow one time I dug up one of their dwellings out of curiosity it was amusing to watch them fussing about running around, grabbing their young and supplies, family jewels, books, photographs and documents I even brought one of them home with me – it became attached to me no less than my dog. Communiqué № 3 this mountain is riddled with a great number of caves filled with a great number of bodies resembling Egyptian mummies these caves and the bodies in them are no less than fifteen hundred years old they say the first Christians used to hide here they showed me a certain St. John embedded in earth to the waist – when his time came to die he dug his own grave and climbed down into it after bidding farewell to his brother monks but the Almighty stopped him one might say halfway there one can also have a look at St. Helen who is much revered here also at the chain the devil used to whip St. Anthony it is used still, I was told, to exorcise evil spirits from those possessed, I was also shown three heads in pitchers which constantly exude a balm extremely effective for treating certain illnesses here I have to add that I personally do not see much of a difference between the aforementioned bodies and the Egyptian mummies which I have seen in the Berber lands except maybe those were drier darker I suppose that in this case preservation is aided by the dry and cool air and the sandy soil but regarding the content of my conversations with St. John I will leave this to the discretion of the curious I will merely add that the saint did not tell me anything of which I was not myself aware meanwhile this is usually how it goes Communiqué № 4 their river has about thirteen rapids in the lower corridor and the water bubbles there like porridge in a mess tin I went through them all in a boat going upstream which locals consider extremely courageous including the steepest one that they call The Insatiable the islands here are covered by stands of willows and they disappear under water in the spring except for one that serves as a sort of storage space arms and provisions do not spoil here since time seems to stand still like a stone in the rushing stream for this reason this island must be treated with caution I lost two men there they got out and disappeared in the luminescent air meanwhile the locals keep saying they will come back in about ten years Communiqué № 5 the local inhabitants here practice various crafts some are more skilled than others though there are some whose knowledge is truly vast in comparison to the others however for the most part everyone here is focused only on what is truly useful and necessary, in other words on things connected to agriculture the land indeed bears them grain in extraordinary abundance so that at times even they don’t know what to do with the surplus since the local rivers are impassable for merchant ships hence their basic character traits the locals are industrious brave straightforward strong of spirit resourceful honest and above all else they prize freedom however at the same time they are treacherous cunning unreliable greedy and lazy so that they can be trusted only with a savvy consideration of all the circumstances which meanwhile could be said of any nation at least these are unusually strong hardy and handsome and their women themselves propose to the men Communiqué № 6 the bitter cold of their winters is hard on us those who have experienced it are lucky not to have lost their lives but only parts of their body fingers and toes, and sometimes the part which I will not name for decorum’s sake two of my comrades took the risk of urinating outdoors a small sore at first the size of a pea expanded until the whole delicate organ was lost but still worse when internal organs are affected the cold gnaws from inside out especially if the battle armor shrinks in the cold and freezes to the back chills the stomach so that it will not accept even warm and liquid food the nature of the piercing pain rending the intestines over which they wailed I will leave to the learned medics, but I myself have seen what I’ve seen nevertheless in accordance with the wishes of some of the locals I dissected a few corpses I can testify that the lungs were charred and black as if from a burn indeed the cold is still more terrible than fire furthermore their innards had acquired a sort of independent life they quivered attempting to escape the sharp blade they moved away beyond the abdominal membrane where they could not be reached meanwhile I managed to lure them out with warmth a candle brought close returned them to their proper place I myself was saved by alcohol and fur clothing also when moving around in a sleigh I kept a dog at my feet meanwhile the locals tolerate the cold somewhat better helped by dense fur and layers of fat beneath the skin Communiqué № 7 it comes from the southeast from empty salt plains over which incandescent air trembles at first small reconnaissance details then solid heavy stormclouds falling to earth as heavy snow filling porches, closets and basements beds, bowls of food, every bite in the mouth needs to be cleaned from it, pigs gobbling it grow fat but the local people turn up their noses at the meat fed on this calamity it covers soil like a living carpet horses get stuck in it up to their fetlocks they recoil grunt flare their nostrils, wheels roll over it with a disgusting crunch an unbearable stench, one had to breathe through a handkerchief to cover nose and mouth with a scarf with their sharpened tails they drill countless holes in the earth lay their eggs there up to three hundred at a time their offspring do not fear the cold clambering out they wander confusedly banging about here and there till they get stronger if a northwestern wind starts blowing then it carries them off to their demise by the Black Sea those who know say that on their wings Divine Retribution is written in Chaldean letters they also speak in a foreign tongue but those who know understand I refer to the people who told me this and who know several languages * Sires, I humbly dedicate this eminently detailed map to you and I hope that it will be of no small help should you decide to accept into your sovereign possession this eminently fertile land this immeasurable great borderland with its riches and quiet wonders its saints sleeping in caves talking fish courageous warriors strange celestial phenomena amazing customs and a few fortifications built by me however I must warn you that the extremely thorough information contained in my communiqués could render this description a guide to your enemy thus I hope for your supreme mercy truly sovereign generosity meaning for a fitting reimbursement for my labors in honor of the glorious empire2 1 A French artillery captain who came to serve in the Polish army in Ukraine in 1630, where he compiled his “A Description of Ukraine and the Borysphen River, Named in Common Parlance the Nipr or Dnipro, from Kyiv to the Sea into Which This River Flows.” His service included overseeing many military and civilian construction projects as well as producing extensive maps of the region. 2 In "Communiques" fragments were used from the "Description of Ukraine” by Guillaume le Vasseur de Beauplan (1651).