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Katrina Papouskaya


I am a cold girl with rosy cheeks and braided, ribboned hair. I pick up fish for бабушка at the butcher’s. He says I have a mouth that looks hooked. I am winter wind-swept. I am flexible, can bend a leg over my shoulder. I am furred, drowning in fox. I toe into leather boots. I kiss the cool, pink cheeks of Ivanushkas and Vanychkas and Igorochiks. I am beautiful in clumped mascara. My braids catch on the hands of boys. I am destined for bridedom. My hands touch the rooftops if I stand on tiptoe; I am taller here. I slice my palms on the icicles. I have bruised ballet feet, bruised ice-skating hips. My tears play Tchaikovsky. My shoulders shake like the conductor leading. I am the red and tight-bunned girl that stayed.

I blow flakes on the swamp near my grandmother’s garden till the water freezes and beneath the ice I see the wide-eyed, shorter girl that left to America. She is warm, she is my secret, she is using English because it’s the only language she knows how to scream in. I shake my head at her. How her blonde has dulled. How she does not call herself “Katya.” How she’s gesticulating the way Americans do – she’s sure of herself, feels entitled to something greater. She is not a bride. She’s bitten her fingernails. She doesn’t know how to fold the dough to make вареники. I watch her. She says mother in our native tongue. Accented, of course. Что? I ask her. What happened to our mother? She’s speaking too fast. More English I don’t know. I only understand “our mother.” I claw at the ice with the long, thin fingers she didn’t inherit. I don’t make a dent, only create more ice. Her eyes slip closed and she sinks. I don’t find out what happened to наша мать but when I come home I hug my vibrant, green-eyed one. She is unambitious because of the валерьянка I slip into her tea. American Girl’s mother isn’t my mother; my mother’s back isn’t broken from lifting heavy things at a job that pays копейки. Her family isn’t torn across continents. Still, I feel drowned. Unfinished.

➥ Bio