I don’t speak Ukrainian,
no way to read their funnies;
Danila the Demonslayer
or the Red Fury. I can’t read
the letters you sent, Zayda,
in Ukrainian and Yiddish. I’m sorry,
I also don’t speak Spanish or Chinese,
if that helps.
Those letters you wrote about
the train to Hamburg, the boat you
took to Quebec, I couldn’t
read them, and did I tell you,
I wasn’t born yet.
There is no way
that I could burrow for beets,
like you, or nudge leeks. Forget
koshering beef. And I
can’t even say your words
for tomato, Tolstoy, tankard
or trip of escape to Trois Rivieres.
I cannot ask a sunflower its name,
or eat their seeds with your tongue,
I do not know the democratic Ukrainian;
I supposed it was the same as Russian,
therefore I had nothing to say
when you, couldn’t go to
a Ukranian school, doors slammed
in a language, I didn’t know.
Ukraine, have you forgotten what you did
now that Russia is knocking at your door?
I don’t speak Ukrainian so I can’t
wail or sing or dance, or mourn for the dead
who starved in the Russo-Japanese war,
Napolean’s war, the Second World War,
the Russian Revolution, my great- grandparents’
wars, or their great-grandparents’ and …
I can’t even say, losing, almost, never, over.
maybe, you too, no in your Jewish-Ukranian dialect.
Instead, I write about you in my language. ( continued)
Zayda, you are only English words on paper,
not enough but my words can be folded,
saved, shared, lit for a fire, sent to the Urals,
and even to Kiev, Odessa, Lvov and Chernobyl.
I have often been called assimilated, a one language
American, naïve, reformed, atheist, but this poem,
at least, lets you know why I haven’t rallied around
the Ukraine, and why I never answered your letters.
About the Poem
I Don’t Speak Ukrainian is about my Jewish links to Ukraine and how difficult it is to support them, though I do even though before they were democratic so many of them were Nazi collaborators.
About the Author
June Gould, Ph.D., is a poet, novelist, and the non-fiction author of, The Writer in All of Us, E.P. Dutton. She has led International Women’s Writing Guild poetry and memoir workshops and Workshop Retreats for over thirty years. Her recent poetry is in; Serenade, Gallery&Studio Arts Journal, the Journal for Psychohistory, Adanna, Issue 11, and HEAL, a journal for medical students and de Curated.