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Thursday, December 20, 2018


by Larissa Shmailo

Freshly plucked tea leaves are seen in the hand of a tea garden worker in Jorhat in Assam, April 21, 2015. REUTERS/Ahmad Masood/Files

Your father’s fingers never got caught in a machine press.
You never saw the indigo marks on his nails as he never
lifted a finger against you, but I knew what my library books
The world was yours, and if I objected on behalf of a man
who worked overtime too many times, I was attacked as
a Marxist, which I am —the indigo marks and the midnight
of a family that worked till they dropped, Mama, Papa, Baba,
Ded—taught me how to read. They never lifted a tired worn
finger against you – their labor was, you so often told them,
tea picked by tired black fingers in inherited cups, was their
Horatio-Alger-Oprah-Winfrey-lack-of -get-up-and-go, lack-
of-entrepreneurmanship-why-didn’t they-invest-in-the-market?
I was permitted to woo your class, however, as your monkey
entertainment, your we-have-liberal- aesthetics poet. You
would dangle money and privilege (jump, artist, higher!) at
my nose.
Read on:
I have never forgotten who broke my father’s hands, my
mother’s back, the cost of my library cards. There are seven
billion of us and we have not forgotten where we came from,
who started the war.
You should never have let them teach us how to read.

Larissa Shmailo's new novel is Sly Bang (Spuyten Duyvil); her first novel was Patient Women (BlazeVOX). Her poetry collections are Medusa’s Country (MadHat), #specialcharacters (Unlikely Books), In Paran (BlazeVOX), the chapbook A Cure for Suicide (Červená Barva Press), and the e-book Fib Sequence (Argotist EBooks). Tracks from her poetry CDs The No-Net World and Exorcism are available from most digital distributors. Shmailo’s work has appeared in Plume, the Brooklyn Rail, Fulcrum, the Journal of Feminist Studies in Religion, the Journal of Poetics Research, Drunken Boat, Barrow Street, Gargoyle, and the anthologies Measure for Measure: An Anthology of Poetic Meters (Penguin Random House), Words for the Wedding (Penguin), Contemporary Russian Poetry (Dalkey), Resist Much/Obey Little: Poems for the Inaugural (Spuyten Duyvil). Shmailo is the original English-language translator of the opera Victory over the Sun by Alexei Kruchenych, performed at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, the Garage Museum of Moscow, and the Brooklyn Academy of Music. Shmailo edited the anthology Twenty-first Century Russian Poetry (Big Bridge Press) and has been a translator on the Russian Bible for the Eugene A. Nida Institute for Biblical Scholarship of the American Bible Society.