Dzvinia Orlowsky's translations (with Jeff Friedman) of Mieczysław Jastrun in this issue.
The Grass Tall Enough
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 theyd remind us
before driving away.
For this, they saved.
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.
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
her eyes averted,
I hesitated to leave behind.
Finely lined pockets
turned inside out,
how quickly a hand
turns up empty.
Bits of mustard ham stained the linen napkin,
dropped off his moustache
as hed 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,
hed offer up his middle finger:
I can make a baby with just this!
Hed 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:
Hes hard of hearing—
Were he alive now, hed never pass through airport security,
his overcoat pockets stuffed
with gifts: Manitoba souvenir fork spoons,
two stuffed, plush velvet mushrooms
we called what-the-hells,
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,
hed 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 hed traveled so far.
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 magicians whose
signature trick has just gone sour,
the fail proof knot dropped.
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
Diane touched the classrooms 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
the soups steam
whispered only its flavors.