I imagine her escaping Ukraine, like a small bird breaking formation over unfamiliar terrain, carrying her belongings in a wooden wagon under a roof of vagrant stars and sleeping beneath shawls of leaves.
She bartered away her possessions in Proskuriv, salvaged them from her hotel ransacked by Cossacks during the Bolshevik Revolution. She gave up an old world to find a new one more than five thousand miles away.
It was the prelude of a new life, and the world lay before her like a matryoshka. In America, she gave up her surname. And though she spoke no English, she learned the language of a new place while keeping the old one alive.
I feel only sadness now, for her coming so far to everything but having nothing, bringing with her the voice of an old country with quiet suffering.
The Great War had murdered her family and her husband’s family with gas and guns, and for years she remained silent as a sleepwalker. Her husband died too before I was born. She seldom mentioned his name, and I did not know how to ask.
I still remember her voice, the way my young son used to search in soft broken tones for the right word, mispronouncing a vowel or consonant. A long time ago, she would have called my son Doll Face. He is the only one to carry forth our name.
Copyright 2021 Glen Brown
First published in Prairie Light Review.
From 1890 to 1930, hundreds of thousands of Ukrainians immigrated to North America. (photo: Ukrainian Canadian Civil Liberties Foundation)