Posted by: Kathryn Hulick | November 22, 2009


Pokrovka, Kyrgyzstan. April 23, 2006.


Hands of dough and string beans, picking onions, fisting in threat
at a descending flock of garden-munching birds

Hands at rest on a lined notebook
purchased for more than it costs for a loaf of bread

Careful penmanship forming lines of words
in a foreign alphabet — English

She asks, what is the word for something twisted, something not straight?
Gnarled, I say. Relishing the sound of a perfect word in my mouth

A word she knows in Russian
A word I’ve forgotten

But not her hands

Carrying me pancakes baked that morning,
buckets of raspberries, a slab of fresh pork

Gifts I don’t know how to accept, but if I give back,
she brings twice as much next time

Then returns to her garden, to bale hay and feed rabbits
aside her ten year old daughter and seventy year old father

A family alone,
hands paler than their neighbors,

Religion and speech and superstitions make them
orphans in their own home—

All the other Russians got out when they could

Now, from afar, her hands are writing letters
in the English I gave her

Studying, memorizing, relating
At fifty years old you aren’t expected to learn another language

But she did

And my hands remember, holding her last gift
her words

I wrote this at a Poetry Workshop with Leslea Newman at the 2009 Write Angles Conference. The poem is about a friend of mine from my time serving in the Peace Corps in Kyrgyzstan.


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