Reading the Firebird I Loose Lifetimes Child of Reagan, what if the Russian boogeyman is my blood? Ukrainian eggs and epicanthic folds, I have to re-check our date of arrival to see if we fled pogroms or incited them. Massie says the serfs were rich and I wonder why we left to shunt coal, if we could have survived 1932— the Holodomor not the Holocaust’s hólos, simply the hunger death of ten million. Or if Koroschenko, the pretty little village in Western Galicia was Polish then. Djiedo said we were always Ukrainian, not knowing, perhaps, that Ruthenian was once the word— he, born a hunky in Western Pennsylvania, legendarily only spoke Ukrainian until seventeen (or was it three) and recorded our origins, too, as Korotchenko and Kanich—more places that do not exist on internet maps trimmed by revolutions. And though my Cyrillic is bad, the Polish I learned in a year recovering my roots tastes the nearness of гарненьке село to Koroschenko. Closer than McKetta to Mixima, when Ms have to be Ts (but only half are) and I can find Koroshenko the composer and Korotchenko the politician (though he was East Galician)— the connection as dead as my ancestors (who would have used patronymics anyway), so I’ll never know which colors belong on my vyshyvanka, only that the center should be plain, hidden (like my married red-gold braid) behind ropes of coral, not the amber koraliki I bought in Gdańsk (despite the cognizance). Orange beads the color of revolution (not like Wednesday’s attempted coup) and Texas, the school he loved. Coral like I’d collected in Dubrovnik, where my language accents local. I’ll never know why I like Klezmer music and my hair only makes sense in a plaited crown, simply that embroidering on cold winter nights brings me peace in this country of machine-made expend- ability. In a week so long I can barely spell my name (even Romanly), let me be nationalist, now, when I don’t know what that is. Let me joke about eating Kolya after watching Mr. Jones and wonder about the Kievan Rus who once ruled— if they gave me my hair, or, because I am only ¼, the Danes who took England, and maybe I should celebrate my Welsh— a people unconquered (by Danes anyway), except I look bad in tophats. So am I Swedish? Anglo? Saxon? Does it matter if my Scots-English blood is 400 years diluted, so thin no one’s left to remember arriving here, wherever they came from—all I carry is memories of the man who lay dying two years ago this week. The man with the bushy eyebrows with whom I counted thawed pierogi: odyn, dva, try as we tried to share something neither of us really had.
Cześć Wojtek (Wojtka Nie Ma) From our bus to Sixth Street I pace you, every morning, your stringy brunet Lurching beside wide hips, Farrah feather hair, not Monika’s waist-length auburn. Side looks at your baby face, small eyes disprove (again) time travel from a 1995 Toruń when Monika exchanged winnowy punk rock jeans and tee for an open-necked red floral and piled all that fire atop her head. Just us three in a field with your leaping dog. Your economist eyes invited me into your modern Catholicism, assessing as you told me about a disappeared condom et by a cat. In flawless English you asked me to interpret lyrics I’d always accepted and explained the coming backlash when your newly free people would vote against themselves for the smallest securities. That day I toured the flat you’d soon share, just then hooked up to gas— your parents’ blessing of a love that should last eternities. I spoke my own truths (because I did not have to hide from her motherly wisdom, a Hessian Eva at nineteen). In twenty-four years, I’ve often thought of you both, not just when my son dumps used condoms on my bed or my people vote against freedom. I never sought you out, “connected,” though I did wonder who you both became— separate now, I’ve heard, but until the couple from the bus I didn’t know what I’ve been chasing—hidden, the memory of a day in the grass when we saw clear the world, and how we were happy.
Isla McKetta is the author of Polska, 1994 (Éditions Checkpointed) and co-author of Clear Out the Static in Your Attic: A Writer’s Guide for Turning Artifacts into Art (Write Bloody). She writes in Seattle and serves on the board of Seattle City of Literature. Find her on Twitter at @islaisreading.