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Sunday, March 06, 2022


by Kathryn A. Broderick

My grandmother is from the Old Country
A land of winding cities, valorous heroes, and ancient towers
Across the green-glass seas.
She whispers words that flow like water
As she sparks to life stories in that distant place
—But lowly and in secret, shamed by her foreign tongue.
Yet her secrets drip into the new life she’s crafted here
Coloring the edges of suburbia in Anywhere, USA
A resilient stain that assimilation cannot wash away.
The dust of butter-rich tea cakes
Cling to her withered fingers
As she weaves tales of her faraway home.
She tells me of the wild Baba Yaga
A witch that lives in a hut atop a mighty bird’s leg
And the ways to escape her enchantment.
She often weaves together the push-pull of escape and return
Haunted by the melancholia of self-imposed exile
As she tries to accept her unwilling divorce from the Old Country.
In her garden, soniashnyk bow their golden heads toward the sun
She calls the flowers her little kings with many-petalled crowns
She rests in their shadows as she paints pictures of her lost home.
My grandmother died before I knew the Old Country meant Ukraine.
She told me tales of its beauty. I never knew of its death.
She fled from its capital as a child.
Her father did not survive the journey
—at least, not as the same man.
Ghosts lingered in his heart.
The famine turned into skeletons those that remained.
Their bones returning to the embrace of earth in unmarked graves.
“Have another tea cake,” she’d say. “You look hungry.”
What was it like to be Slavic and living in America during the Cold War?
Living under the hostile glare of suspicious eyes branding you an enemy?
Surviving against your will as your family withered away?
I sit in the shadow of her sunflowers
Listening to news of Russia’s unprovoked attack
And I feel her fingerprints upon the pulse of the Old Country.
The heroic threads and tragedy lining each of her secret stories
Now shout at me from modern headlines.
We dwell in dark times—but in the darkness heroes rise
At least, as my grandmother said, they do in the Old Country.

Kathryn A. Broderick’s work has appeared in First Line and Mirror Dance. Her second novel Gorgon Crown will be released in June 2022.