He came with the same yellow backpack as my dad had. Such a huge backpack. Dad went with it to polonyna to buy cheese. Mr Oleh began to take out from his backpack wooden sculptures. He made them with an axe only. Several years later, I saw his “workplace” – a wooden stump. And that very axe. And a piece of wood, half-shaped. It was already possible to imagine what would come out of it. Mr Oleh said that a straight axe doesn’t allow affectation. Incisors resort to detail. But not an axe. It says the most important.
That evening there was such a mood among the audience that someone very important came. Someone extraordinary. The audience – the participants of the seminar of creative youth from the Fakel Publishing House. Most probably, until I had read the poetry of Oleh Lysheha, he was perceived as a man with a backpack, like my dad. It was my second visit to Kyiv in my life, and I was struck to see a backpack there, ten years ago, on May 2009.
In July, in the Lviv region, near the village Popovychi on the forts of the First World War, the Fort.Missia festival was held. Very close to the Ukrainian-Polish border. This is a closed territory generally, the festival is not the only opportunity to get there. There were really nice locations. And lots of grass. You could swim in it like in the snow. But it wasn’t cold. From the grass, the tents popped out like mushrooms.
Between May and June, I purchased To Snow And Fire. This is a wonderful book with the author’s signature that I still flick through at times. Even then, his book brought me a lot of poetic discoveries. That’s why when I met Oleh Lysheha at the festival I got really excited. My friends and I somehow easily met him and spent a lot of time talking. These were wonderful long conversations, full of great joy. My friends and I were twenty-one then, Mr Ole sixty. But, it seems, everyone was equally pleased to spend time together. Of course, we listened more and Mr Oleh talked. It was a conversation not for the sake of information but for joy.
Oleh Lysheha was very considerate when talking. Condescending to the detractors and first-hand with friends. He couldn’t offend. Once an unpleasant situation took place in which he received offences. But he as Seraphim of Sarov only agreed with the words of the offender.
Somehow it happened at the festival that Yuriy Kucheryavyi, who was in charge of the literary scene, offered us to speak with Mr Oleh together as representatives of different generations or something like that. In addition to the fact of the honour of the joint performance, I then realized the main “myth” of my Brusturiv. Mr Oleh called it the capital of cheese horses. It seemed that he once crossed with a Brusturiv craftswoman, and therefore he knew this almost the only relatively well-known fact about a little-known village. I liked this definition. As if the capital, but without any redundancies, just the capital of toys from cheese.
We exchanged contacts, and when Mr Oleh came to Tysmenytsia to his parents’ house, he always invited me to come around. I together with my friends came to Ivano-Frankivsk, it’s fifteen minutes by bus, and we again plunged into a conversation. So it was in all subsequent years of our relationship.
“I swim, I swim all the time,” Mr Oleh said in September when I was visiting him in Lviv during the Publishers’ Forum. We talked all night. He talked about the sculptors Hryhor Kruk and Borys Gutsuliak.
Sometimes, Mr Oleh unleashed his inner actor. He sang songs of his youth. Czesław Niemen. Ella Fitzgerald. This all he accompanied by effective facial expressions, movements, cries. When he read to the audience, he didn’t read so many poems. Rather, several he knew by heart: “There are so many superstars, overgrown with weeds…”, “When it’s not too late – beat your head against the ice!”, “When you need to warm yourself…” … and many more of Chubay. And he simply talked. About poetry. About how he sees, perceive and comprehends art and life.
Already in October, I invited him to Ivano-Frankivsk for the first literary festival Pokrova named after Taras Melnychuk. Later, the idea to honour the laureates of the festival with a cheese horse prize appeared. The development of this myth began. Oleh Lysheha was the first winner of the festival in 2012. As a sculptor, he obviously could not just eat this cheese, but still a sculpture. Later I saw this horse already dried up on his shelf in Tysmenytsa with his own wooden sculptures. Mr Oleh participated in the festival every year until 2014, that was the last year of our meeting.
And the penultimate one – in Lviv at the Forum. Mr Oleh showed draft work of the future book Ella Fitzgerald’s Kiss. When the book was published a year later, already after the death of Mr Oleh, I was pleased to have found in it a mention of our festival. Since the very first one in 2009. It was October 14, I ran a hundred meters to the bookstore “E”, where there should have been one of the festival events. The first snow came. It was rather dry in the morning. And then there was a blizzard. And through this blizzard in a long coat, bearded, Oleh Lysheha went without a hat. Later he said that when he was on a train from Lviv to Ivano-Frankivsk, he had been writing. Obviously, it was this very fragment from Ella Fitzgerald’s Kiss.
He didn’t know the fuss. He always had plenty of time although he often repeated that he had little of it. It was impossible to meet him for half an hour over a cup of tea. It was zilch. Half an hour was enough to tell the freshest news. But when to talk? For this, you should have broken free. And to swim. All the time to swim.
Hot summer of one of those years. Mr Oleh shows a forest where he picks mushrooms. On the way back you need to cross the bridge over the river. But he bypasses it. He steps into the water and swims, a bit surprising the ducks that also swim there. And then he comes out of the water and we go further.