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Dzvinia Orlowsky

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Dzvinia Orlowsky
Foreign Woman

She rarely visited her young grandchildren.
But when she did and they misbehaved
by crying or pulling on the dog's tail,
Mother would lean forward, point her finger,
warn Baba never coming again.

Then she'd pass the chipped plate
of all she had to offer:
a Salvation Army-purchased
fold out play pen with exposed rusted
screws, the wooden duck placed inside
with torn rubber flapper feet
and a lead paint nose,
the over-sized stuffed burlap Teddy Bear
for a pillow,
the naked doll left out in the rain, in the sun,
with missing tufts of hair,
a cloud of gnats circling her pink torso.
She named her Va-va, foreign woman.

If she ever held them, I didn't see it;
if she ever held me, I don't remember.
What I needed she didn't leave enough

of, even now, standing in her empty
kitchen, a kettle of imagined lentils simmering,
my eye, trained to look past the stove
to the sill a single bruised apple,
its ripe never.

What I Inherited


It was the shock of pre-party red to her lips that my sister and I stared long into its fleshy open bull's-eye, hungry Venus fly-trap, out-lined with dark borders, an accent mole as if her face were a clock painted by Magritte, a perfect dot right about at 4:00. It was never Mom or Mother we saw coming down the hall or standing in half-light by her bedroom door. It was her red lipstick. She kissed the rim of her Gimlet glass. She kissed the back of her hand. She kissed squares of toilet paper. She must have kissed us too though upon waking, studying our faces in the mirror, checking our palms, we never found proof.

A Need to Keep Moving

Train leaving! my father calls out as my sister and I, careful not to touch each other's bare feet, pile on our parents' bed. It's our way of rehearsing for, or all altogether avoiding disaster all three of us together, first days then years, throwing salt over our shoulders, spitting quickly to the side when passing a graveyard, stepping twice over a threshold, or tossing spare change onto the floor of a brand new car.

He presses his index finger lightly against his lips, closes his eyes. German bombs whistle heavy-bellied from the sky. One explodes next to our sway-backed horse at the edge of his barbed-wired pasture, another one blows up our four-foot above-ground swimming pool sending fragments of inflatable rafts, flippers, goggles, spinning into the sky. We feel safe knowing we are accounted for before a third bomb blasts out of the otherwise soundless night shattering unmade beds, fracturing mirrors, scattering neighboring families in human litters of fire.

Keeping Track of Names Not Easily Forgotten

For now their names stay with me: Figa, Vasha, Matska, Bobuk, Horoshok mostly mutts from accidental litters. Some could do tricks climb a tree after a cat, lap beer out of a mug; but all, particularly the pure breeds, were destined for misfortune. Fifi, an overweight standard dachshund, couldn't digest a mouse after killing and swallowing it. Aza, our Chihuahua, one winter day mysteriously rolled out of her baby blanket, out the unlocked front door and under the wheel of the first speeding car. While my mother stood in the middle of the road screaming Murderers!, I hid in the bathroom covering my ears with my hands. Tall summer grass rippling with an approaching storm took the last dog, Masha, collarless and meadow-wild.

A Little Bell

The Sohio station attendant, Mike, stitched in red above the pocket of his blue uniform, leaned into the window of the back seat where I sat, my Cindy and Sue paper cut-outs lined up on the seat.

Shaking his head, he asked my parents in the front seat, Pelagia Dzvinia? Now what kind of name is that for a little girl?

My mother whispered under her breath: Dzvinia, Dzvinka, Dzvenyslava. Wild flower. A Little Bell. Noble one. Pelagia, Pelahia. Martyr. Daughter of the sea.

Handing my father the receipt, Mike said, Let me give you a little advice, keep it simple...friendly, American. He looked back at me appraisingly, and after a few seconds he nodded his head saying, She looks like a Peggy yea Peggy.

Just in time for first grade, my father agreed, his eyes beaming at me from the rear view mirror, as he pulled out of the station. Through the back window I watched the attendant grow smaller and smaller, my father's view of the highway ahead framed by the windshield, every smudge swiped and drying clean.

Copyright Dzvinia Orlowsky
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