How do I tell it,
in the language that crept in
while your parents
were at work, Globe and Mail
left on the kitchen table
by the Polish lodger—
who didn’t read Cyrillic1
characters. Grey newsprint
on fake grain, breeze
from the open door flipping
through the front section:
“Read me”,
it whispered in perfect English
intonation. Your father, Mikail,
was Mike in the city. But could not
wash away the fate line etched
in axle grease on his broad palm.
As your mother Rosalia became
Rose, her treadle machine
at Tip Top Tailors stitched
her airways closed, the word
emphysema too late for hoarded
breaths. Unvoiced,
she survived on shallow sips
of air while you practiced
CBC2 enunciation, crisped
consonants, fenced syllables,
lined your throat with velvet
alliteration. You’d speak so succinctly
no one would call you Bohunk,
Eye-tie, or Frog—ask which
eagle gave up his beak for you
to smell sauerkraut.


You taught me to remove the “wanna”
from the way I say Toronto.
In your story, mother, the family
came to the city when you were eight.
Each syllable of English is guarded.
No rambling for our family tongue.







My tongue burns at
the memory of arterial beet
juice with horseradish—
Ukrainian Wasabi!


hoick to say it,
Mother instructs,
her gob rising.


I interrupt.
What language did Gido shout in?


. . . You couldn’t boil some chicken
legs before I got home?
Not even put out some rye
with Xreen?


She cannot recall the language
of her father’s fury, only
the thump of his fist
chattering china.


Her mother sprinkles the table
surface with flour,
presses out yellow dough
left to rise under a towel
hours before his return.
A long rope. Her mother
grips the sharpest knife,
slices thin laces for
egg noodle Lokshyna.
The old man paces. Bacon
spits in the cast iron pan.


In the chair by the open
window, the steel-grey taffeta
prom gown is restless in the breeze,
tulle underskirt stiff with peaks
whipped by her mother’s deft wrists.


Marusia is the best dressed
graduate of Charles G. Fraser.
Wool is cheap in July, seams
easily basted while light sprawls
on cool kitchen tiles
until nine at night. Her mother
sketches Marusia’s hourglass
shape on brown paper—pattern for
the lean silhouette of a pencil
skirt for the university wardrobe.
Marusia yearns for a tall man
to touch her
with pale, quiet hands.

1 The script used for Ukrainian, Russian, and some other Slavic languages

2 Canadian Broadcasting Corporation

3 Ukrainian egg noodle, bacon, and onion dish

4 Fermented beet relish