Epigraph 9/ Birds start nesting in the cupboards, mice behind the fridge. Mimmy’s birthmark on her checkbooks like an eaten piece of flesh drying on her skin. She pulls out four eyelashes every morning and gives them to her children. They blow their wishes across the breakfast table. — from Uncountry by Yanara Friedland
Wearing her mother’s leather treasure boots my mother stood in line for hours
trembling in her brother’s socks. Waitingwaitingwaiting for toilet paper, bread,
flour, meat. What’s a child to know of life if it begins in waiting —
History bent around her torso like the Rusanovka river-bend in 1980
the year in which she climbed every rooftop and finished music school with a red diploma.
If she had a question about her waiting she would want to know what the answer was
first. I know this because I live to love her
on another continent edging towards familiar fiction with each conversation:
I gather the disorder, the hackled indigence, joy, kinesis, laurel for the elders,
no foliage for oxblood. I walk towards West 4th and the gravel reminds me of
Dniprovskiy Spusk. That one time I dreamt of a red playground overlooking the river Dnipro
and they built it some months later. My grandmother took me there as a surprise.
I was six and did not know yet that the mind worked like a blacksmith.
Pandemonium in her face asks, rest or ruin, stitches upwards in embroidery on the day of her
second wedding in September. On the morning of, she drives herself to her hair appointment, then drives us home with her veil secured in gold in her hair. I take photos laughing through my tears. The tears streaming down my face in my lavender dress, my red hair loosely tied. I am father walking my mother down the isle. September of the American man taking off her “commie” skin, removing the perfect dust of her mind. Just once, and for good.
Distances are umbilical, disregarding proximity. We are born with knots in our stomachs
as a reminder. I run up the isle like a daughter. I dream of domes and hills at home.
The saints rise from the Lavra catacombs to braid my hair in Slavonic prayer.
I cannot stop crying on the days leading up to and on the days receding from.
I have yet to recover my faith, so I latch onto the latitude.
In Kiev we begin going to church after the divorce. We are forgiven only
for having not fallen in the night, for having survived hours of prayer in familiar sound
dizzying us in mesomorphic meaning of our olden tongue. We try to recover the tradition
in New Jersey years later. My secret faithlessness, my intellect holding it for ransom.
But I begin to understand now: when they built Russian Orthodox churches in America,
they must have known it is easier to cross the body, than across the ocean.
Returning to a home may be a process of a lifetime for an immigrant.
The shock of having been severed, or convincing one severed oneself, lasts.
If a paradise is lost, how to conceive of longevity?
How to wake in a dream & never arrive? To understand ancestral recoiling,
pull restitution out like a tooth and swallow departure as recovery.
I tell my mother I wear her clothes and leave the hangers inside of me.
I examine her for weakness and stumble backwards into our sameness.
When she sees me breathe in the smoke of a cigarette for the first time, her eyes go wide,
say, Too much of me inside You.
Now I walk along Sunset Boulevard for hours with her voice in my headphones
looking at the american dream stuffed inside of sandy colored bungalows.
You need Anastasia, she says and I understand what she means in my own way.
She does not know that Anastasia and I at seven years old used to kiss
with our thumbs in Xs over each other’s mouths, one at a time.
When I am in mourning I most often think of love as the act of kissing my own hands.
One time at seven I watched tears glide down the track of their own shadows on her cheeks.
In the back of a cab in Kiev, below the yellow of lampposts, somewhere on the right side of Dnipro she had found out over the phone that the love of her youth had died of a heart attack at 31 years old. The one whom she loved enough to hide in the bushes and watch him kiss another girl, the one with whom she started a dance company with. The one whose name I’d always known faceless, the one whose death I watched in the ache of her lightslit tears.
A few months before her September wedding, she says she has not been in love since the love who died. With age we begin craving comfort over the rush. Love changes meaning.
She writes me a letter in English and sends it to my closest friend to proofread.
On her wedding day I receive the envelope from my friend in the audience, I read it later
in my apartment in New York and weep. She writes that she hopes her second marriage
will heal my understanding of family. She hopes to not disappoint me again. I weep because
all these years she’s shown me that families can be made of two, that fathers are inessential,
that women are God. That I am so happy having been taught that by her life.
I weep because she does not see herself and I have not been enough to show her.
After the divorce, and even before I fully moved in to live with my grandparents,
even before mother left for America to earn a living, I slept in my grandparents' room with them,
in a bed made of two love seats facing each other,
their arms cradling me – a dancer fallen after a day of resin.
The love-seats faced each other when my parents could not, and also when my mother’s parents turned chairs into a bed and turned away from one another too.
A child learns early on that anger is a code emotion for despair.
A child dancer of a mother dancer sees when the body shows pain
but words are used as weapons. When bodies become half-moons separated by days,
when one half lights up and the other disappears.
Falling asleep in a bed made of everything they could not say to one another, waking up to
my grandfather throwing up on the floor. His heart attack. My grandmother with the sorghum broom, sweeping his insides from the unpainted wooden floor into the dustpan, into the garbage. I did not know that the heart could attack the body Like That.
When my mother was at home she used to lie on the bed with it made
with her left arm over her forehead, her hand hanging down, her fingers
strumming her eyelashes upwards along their curve, gently like playing a harp.
Both eyes wide open up towards the ceiling. It was the calmest I’d ever seen her.
When I’d think she had enough of stroking the visions in the harps of her eyes,
I’d climb on the bed, take her hand off her face, and begin petting my head and face, her long nails slightly scratching my skin, me giggling as she called me pribalevshaya, [trans.] Little Sick Girl.
She used to tell me doch, eto litzo materi, [trans.] daughter is the face of the mother.
Maybe if she understood what she was really telling me, she could have been kinder to herself,
so I patted our face with her hand. I was trying to teach her softness.
One day when I am working in New York she calls to say she did not bring me to this country to become a naked lesbian feminist whore. I pay my ransom to retrieve my heart with its
clotted faith pushing the heat of blood through my veins. I need it now, to believe
she knows she may have brought me, but I was long taken into the paradigm of the body.
We don’t speak for months.
When asked about the 1950s purse I carry with me that I picked up at a flee market at a bazaar in Kiev, I respond with the facts of its origin then add, I like other women’s things because
I am looking for a mother.
In Los Angeles to where I run to for a Spring visit, I write down realtors’ numbers,
and in my deep longing for a home, think of my favorite C.D. Wright poem:
Call Grandmother / and she says, Well you know / death is death and none other.
I translate for my own heart. The last lines sound [trans.]
I ona Gavarit, Daje. Yesli. Neba. Padayet. /
Moy. Pokoy. Prevzoshol. Yavlyaaayetza. V. Rastsvete.
And she says, / Even. If. The. Sky. Is. Falling. / My. Peace. Rose. Is. In. Bloom.
My mother does not understand poetry without rhyme, but using words
can describe scenes from films with such ardor it becomes unnecessary to watch them,
or rather, you only want to live in her re-telling, in the projection of her voice and her
love for beauty, whatever you may call it by name.
When I tell her a friend of mine stopped speaking to me after having read a lyric essay of mine based on their work, she says, Maybe they don’t know what to say, maybe they’re shocked to death.
At night in my apartment in Washington Heights I think about her desire for rhyme,
how rhyme locks language, asks us to search for meaning in assonance,
how a bird in a cage can still breathe, one thing at a time, until the cage door swings open.
Basic needs, communist women speaking in a locked language.
I remember our old apartment on the left side of Dnipro.
The parrot I had who climbed up and down and around her cage all day and all night.
Mother hated the sound, covered the cage with a towel to make her sleep, even in the day time. Even then I understood the ache of the bird. I am missing so much knowledge. For example: When asked about the cruelty of her love, mother says, When you will Understand, you will weep all nights and all days.
Mother make me okay with the difference inside me, Mother.
Walking along the Los Angeles river with a broken heart she tells me:
You write deeply and think so small sometimes.
& then she says, Paintings can bring anything.
And I say, i slid from your womb, i did
If you have enjoyed reading the writing above, please consider signing up for Epigraphs by inputting your email address below. Like this, you will get my lyric musings and essays in the like of this one sent directly to your inbox. I send them monthly or bi-monthly, depending on the shade of wind. You are always welcome to write back to me once you receive an Epigraph in your inbox. Thank you.