where I'm from

May 24, 2012
By Elena Milin PLATINUM, New York, New York
Elena Milin PLATINUM, New York, New York
30 articles 0 photos 6 comments

I am split since I met you, America,
my tongue has forked and my teeth have sharpened
so they can now mince words like we used to crunch selodka or schnitzel
which in Russia is called otbivnaya
I am split between this jaded city
(it has withstood armies and gentrification)
and those cold plains,
the ice in my veins which I have never seen
but which clacks and creaks on my tongue like
the boats that brought us here,
and bleeds like ink and memory like the pens we signed our new names with
I am all this, and I am baruch ata adonai
blessed are you, lord
and the harsh sounds from the bases of thousands of throats always sounded solemn, like mourning more than prayer
I am eight candles and thousands of years of exile
keeping our stuff in bags on horses, in parcels that could be loaded onto wagons
things the road could not wear down
like our spirits
and when I told my father that in fourteen-hundred-ninety-two Columbus sailed the ocean blue
and he said and they kicked the Jews out of Spain
and I thought about adding a verse for that, but
I am split since I met you, America
and so I don’t know what tongue to hiss my story in
or even what the story is
all I have left is fragments,
ya govoryú po-rússkii i ya zhivú v nyu-york
and how all my relatives get drunk singing dai dai-ay-nu, dai dai-ay-nu
and we have lived in this city for generations, my grandmother grew up in Queens
we can still smell pigeon s*** on the streets from 1940
1890, I get my years mixed up
and the tongues all tie
but I want to believe that somewhere in there is a history
a line a map that I can follow back to maybe-Isaac bar somebody
or Yosif could-be-Ivanovich
and I would go by boat by train huddled, crouching with the others with
one suitcase and the money tvoyú matúshka gave us
and somewhere on the deep road of the past, perhaps
I’d find where I belong.

The author's comments:
Inspired by those "Where I'm From" poems people do. I know I only use the phrase once, but eh. The past has always had a great resonance for me.

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