Poetry / Daniel Blokh
:: Cold Doesn’t Like Being Forgotten ::
After Kathryn Hargett I’m 6 years old and can’t keep my medicine down. Quite terrible. This world will do anything to keep you from the easy drift you wish for. The large pill makes it halfway down, then wakes some ripple in the murky depth of me—my mouth cracks open, breakfast and cough syrup all wasted. I hope enough regret might wash them down but my body lunges forward time after time, reaching for somewhere I don’t know. My mother grabs the mop. Doesn’t even sigh. * When my brother was born back in Moscow, he was always sick. My parents didn’t have much medicine, but they had superstition. They fed my brother honey mixed with lemon and onion, rubbed his throat with cotton dipped in gasoline, made him gargle beet juice. He wore potato compresses on his skin. Doctors put hot jars on him to drain the wrongness out. Who can blame them? People have done odder things than swallowing a dandelion’s leaves to kill sickness, to clean the winter from a bone. When something climbs into your body and writhes there, how can you reason with it? * In her dream, my mother was in Moscow yesterday. In waking, it’s been more than twenty years. She left her home and became mine, bowl of water waiting for hair, railing of a staircase. Still it tugs at her voice, the hint of back there hanging on her Rs and Ths, spilling this country out of her, the hold of homesickness she found no superstition for getting rid of, could never scrub away completely. * Now my mother places Airbornes next to Kurantil, makes me bloat with vitamins they only sell thousands of miles away, antibiotics from online stores. She gives me my pills beside bowls of borscht, tells me, Swallow them together and you won’t even notice it. But I do and red stains swell into the carpet. No wet drowning can steal the pill’s dust from my throat, the cling of taste.
:: Tonkaya Ryabina ::
The tired green of it, the sprawl around the porch, the wind tussling the blades so they dance with the song we’re listening to, rustling your lips. It’s heat, but won’t be heat until I name it. For the first time today, your eyes are questionless. Something in you is sliding awake. We could be anywhere: a summer house in Moscow, a nursing home beside a wide green field. The song flickers out and we settle back into one of those two options and I think about the rain that brushed past us last week, ate up the summer. You were almost smiling when the song played. Now you sit. You sit. You sit. You sit. You sit. You look at me and start to sing. Your voice too thin to hold the weight of melody, but I can still make out the lyrics: Chto stoish kachayas. . . You don’t know the next word. Tonkaya, I say, Tonkaya, and you say, I’m afraid, and I say, Why, and you say, What if I forget? and water can scare away a summer, but heat always settles back around the world. Our voices drops clinging to each other in a hopeless throat. What if everything falls out—What if I don’t remember the lyrics— Will they forgive me?
From the writer
:: Account ::
“Cold Doesn’t Like Being Forgotten”
In “Cold Doesn’t Like Being Forgotten,” I tell the parallel stories of my mother’s immigration to America and of me catching a cold. The running feeling throughout both stories is that of the desire to reshape one’s self—both in changing one’s physical well-being and one’s identity. My mother came to America from Russia (largely for me and my siblings) without knowing the language. Her 20+ years in America have been spent largely on trying to adapt to the environment, but she is still an immediately obvious outsider and treated as such; there is still “the hint of back there hanging / on her Rs and Ths.” I present her past in this poem in the way I imagine her seeing it in the past—something she cannot hide or get rid of, a disease she “could never scrub away completely.” Yet there is a shift at the end of the poem, when, in the present, she puts “Airbornes next to Kurantil” and “gives me my pills / beside bowls of borscht.” She is no longer trying to erase her past, but has embraced it. She has realized it as a part of her.
Music has often come into the poetry I write about my grandmother; throughout her stages of dementia, even when she can’t recognize anyone around her, she has always been able to remember the songs of her past in Russia. In the poem “Tonkaya Ryabina,” the song is a link between that past and the present, between her reality and mine. As I sit with my grandmother on a nursing home porch and listen to the music, it seems as though “We could be anywhere: a summer house / in Moscow, a nursing home beside a wide green field.” For the duration of the song, it doesn’t matter; we are happy. Yet after the music stops and the moment of hopefulness ends, the reality of the situation returns, my grandmother’s mental distress and disorientation inescapable. “Heat always settles back around the world.”
Daniel Blokh is a 16-year-old American writer of Russian-Jewish descent, living in Birmingham, Alabama. He is the author of the memoir In Migration (BAM! Publishing, 2016), the micro-chapbook The Wading Room (Origami Poems Project, 2016), and the chapbook Grimmening (forthcoming from Diode Editions). His work has been recognized by the Scholastic Art and Writing awards and the Foyle Young Poet awards, and has appeared in DIALOGIST, Permafrost, Blueshift, Cleaver, Gigantic Sequins, Forage Poetry, Avis, Thin Air, Cicada, and more. He’s bad at taking naps, which sucks, because he really needs a nap right now.