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Dzvinia Orlowsky's translations (with Jeff Friedman) of Mieczysław Jastrun in this issue.

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Dzvinia Orlowsky's poetry and feature in a previous issue.

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Contributor Notes




Dzvinia Orlowsky

Dzvinia Orlowsky

The Grass Tall Enough

The Grass Tall Enough

 

1.

 

The bust of Taras Schevchenko, national poet,

stood erect in a field,

 

determined as stone.

We would march to him, honor him,

 

cut back the weeds.

For this our parents waved goodbye to us

 

for three weeks of camp every summer.

The Homeland they’d remind us

 

before driving away.

For this, they saved.

 

 

2.

 

The Amish

driving their carriages

 

on a dirt Middlefield road

turned their heads

 

to face what had just passed—

a line of uniformed children, single file

 

and brown ankle-socked,

the synchronized clock work of our feet.

 

 

3.

 

Yet, standing before his heroic head,

we wondered of what use were our offerings,

 

chosen token sacrifices

placed obediently on the ground:

 

snapped gum wrapper chains,

tabs pulled from pilfered soda cans,

 

the grass tall enough for lies.

                                   

A Polaroid of my pound-found

mutt, Vasha,

 

her eyes averted,

paw raised—

 

I hesitated to leave behind.

 

Finely lined pockets

turned inside out,

 

how quickly a hand

turns up empty.

 

 

 

Uncle

 

Bits of mustard ham stained the linen napkin,

dropped off his moustache

as he’d first chew then whisper,

Do you want to see me roll my tongue

into a fat cigar? Sure, my sister would answer

resigned, kicking me under the table.

Then after dinner, standing

too close to us at the sink,

he’d offer up his middle finger:

I can make a baby with just this!

He’d wait for us to laugh.

In the next room, Mother snapped a napkin

to get our attention. She tapped her fingertip

against her right earlobe:

He’s hard of hearing

 

Were he alive now, he’d never pass through airport security,

his overcoat pockets stuffed

with gifts: Manitoba souvenir fork spoons,

lacquered matryoshkas,

two stuffed, plush velvet mushrooms

we called what-the-hell’s,

their X eyes and long grins

stitched with gold thread.

 

Muggy Sunday afternoons,

refreshed after a second shower,

smelling of cologne,

his face flushed with color,

fingernails surgeon-scrubbed,

he’d stare at us long and hard,

tap his middle finger against

the hot tea glass making sure we noticed, too,

his silver cufflinks.

Only Mother laughed,

offering more tea.

 

After all, he was family.

And he’d traveled so far.

 

 

                                                                                               

 

Shoe Laces

 

I was always slow to tie the adult-size sneaker

nailed to a small wooden board

made for practicing on,

one lace crossed over the other,

then quick-dip-under, my hands

coming up empty and questioning

like those of a magician’s whose

signature trick has just gone sour,

the fail proof knot dropped.

 

 

 

 

 

Borscht

 

Each Epiphany, clear blood

sipped off polished silver spoons,

no slivers of beets to tempt us into biting,

we longed to curl our tongues

around the “little ears”—Yshka,

folded boiled dough stuffed

with fried onions and mushrooms

and pinched closed—

or Chinese dumplings to the Stop & Shop clerk—

three per guest crowding each small ceramic bowl.

 

But as children we feared they could hear

our thoughts:

Johnny masturbated.

Diane touched the classroom’s Do not touch!

clay model volcano! —

her finger destined to blaze

like a Pascal candle.

 

After company left, Mother poured the holy

soup down the drain.

We were safe

once again

to believe

the soup’s steam

whispered only its flavors.