Onions, Sautéed in Butter








Baba Yaga crone-child

bangs the table leaf

with fisted claws. She’s telling me

the same story again: the kurka

dashing round the farmyard

without its head—

my Baba, her mother shouting,


“Pish-law, kurka!”

Get out of here, chicken!


Though the whole point

was to scald the kurka

in the pot of boiling water

on the woodstove,

pluck it clean, pink

as a new pencil eraser.


“Baika balakaty”—she scolds,

“Do you know what

that means? You are

telling stories,”

Baba Yaga glares

as I scratch in my notebook

like a chicken in the dirt.

I am writing about her:

how often she complains

about my cooking.


“It’s not to my taste,” she says,

pushing away my sweet pepper pasta.


Between meals I sit on my bed

in the backroom. A closed door

still means “No Entry” to her.


We are women who have lived

for ourselves first—selfish.

My sister hasn’t forgiven her

for going back to university,

leaving her with the Polish babysitter

every winter weekday for two years.

That dumpling-woman fried perogies

every night heaped her plate

until she broke my father’s Captain’s Chair.


Back then, I was running through ravines,

climbing trees with friends,

wearing a crown of laurel leaves.


My sister doesn’t write down

the stories of her girlhood,

but her four full-grown children

return home often to reassemble

the family my sister built, fresh.


When birds fly into Baba Yaga’s picture

window—fall, warm feather

bundles—to the cracked boards

of her deck, our Baba Yaga

puts on her quilted

coat, the one with deep pockets,

fills each one with a bird.

Warm against her body, finches

sometimes flutter back to life, flush

purple as revived hearts—





Rescue granted her power—

we know that spell.



You and your sister”


Baba Yaga

calls us witches.


We are—

for taking her car away,

refusing to drive her

for ais krim because

it’s impossible to lick

a melting heap of sweet

“Moose Tracks”

while wearing a mask.


“The virus is a fairy tale.”


“Not real!” she

stomps. I challenge her

to squat-kick the Hopak

Cossack dance.

“That’s for men!”

Baba Yaga wags her bony finger

at me while gnawing

on a chicken leg. Her house

spins once, settles

on its white feathered haunches.






Back-crawling in the lake

I reach up, behind

me, stroking the sky’s blue face


I’ve memorized the rocks

under the surface

swimming beside this shore

more than half my life.


Rounding the corner I breast

stroke the last

one-hundred-and-fifty yards

my mother sits on her dock

in one of the yellow chairs,

beacons I seek

through the dark lenses

I need after so many years

staring at the sun.


Three otters surface

near the butter-coloured

lilies twenty feet

from the stony beach.

I dog paddle longing

to be like them


Otters sleek,

their fur slicked back

against round skulls

by the lake’s pomade,

black pug noses,

bristling whiskers.

They periscope,

Mother points

with her stick, grins.

I nod. They sink

without a ripple.


Mom yearns to swim.

She’d be weightless

in the water’s arms,

no need for her cane.

I offer again to help

her wade past the slippery stones

to soft sand.

Yesterday, she found

her blue and white suit

with the demure, frilly

old lady skirt.


I sit beside her

drying my hair in the sun,

glowing with the glimpse

of otters.

My mother asks in her

good girl voice:


“Onions fried in butter

with perogies tonight?”


Mother’s memories

drift in like light rain:


“I was an only child,

your Baba and Gido

worked long hours.

I had to let myself

into the flat, latch key

kid; ate kvaas on bread

for dinner alone.”


I say, “I fried onions in butter

with the perogies last night.

It’s too hot to cook.

I’ll microwave what we have.”


Mother nods. She has forgotten

the otters, our shared glimpse.

Forgotten my offer to help her swim.


I want to slide back

into the lake

like the otters

stay hidden as long as I can.


Climbing the steps

up to the house

I practice

holding my breath.