Chiara Di Lello

for my grandfather

Picture a clod of boys in the dirt road clumped around
him       stubborn root that he is           who set himself
afloat in the mill run in a tin tub          got stuck and beat for it
but survived                  see him there at the cross
of the only two roads in his town
“Ivan, read us the paper”        unfurling the news by the wood-shingle church

I’ve seen that crossroads, seen the mountains
that resonate still in his chest               as he spurs us into song
on Christmas eve         ringleader that he is
sometimes I think Ukrainians are born knowing four part harmony

from his end of the table he holds court        give his blessings
in Ukie             then English             so the spouses and grandchildren understand
at least I know the Our Father, the holiday kolady

the bulbs in the chandelier glow golden
the tablecloth still white           rescued every year from someone’s mushroom gravy
or stray spoonful of ruby borscht         we’re older now, less prone to spill
and we let him pour us cognac              always in sherry glasses
that he knocks back like it’s serious business

He asks why I teach small children       why I’m no
professor or ambassador        when I’m going to get a job at the U.N.
asks every time I see him when I’m getting married            every time flubs my partner’s name
I never ask him why he would tell us the story
of the mill run             and not the newspaper

never told him I’m here because of that boy
who read the news to his friends who couldn’t
who serves kutya every Christmas with the cookie plate
even though we all hate kutya             the mushy buckwheat, the cloying honey
who never says these were the same grains
his father cast on the floor for little Ivan          to kneel on after he almost drowned

so we survive to suffering            we survive to sweetness
and raise up glasses                      and raise up thin paper walls

Chiara Di Lello is a writer and educator. She delights in public art, public libraries, and getting improbable places by bicycle. For a city kid, she has a surprisingly strong interest in beekeeping. Find her recent poems in Whale Road Review, Up the Staircase Quarterly, Across the Margin, and others. Twitter: @thetinydynamo, IG: @whereskiwi

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