I am five, six, seven years old
standing in my grandmother’s bedroom
next to an ancient oak table while she sits on the bed.
Long ago widowed, she wears a black kerchief,
hands folded over a heavy brown dress.
We have established a treasured ritual.
She recounts epics from her expansive life
and I stage lengthy concerts comprised
entirely of improvised songs in “English.”
Taking great joy in each absurd performance,
I contort my mind, striving to summon
the most improbable sounds.
Trotting back home at sunset
through familial fields and orchards,
I do not detect the dark irony of our game
in light of approaching destinies.
Shortly, incoherence inverts reality
as all is whisked away by war,
and a few years later
I stumble through a foreign land,
fitting my mouth with a new tongue.
After she passes away
I start listening to old Russian ballads,
trying to imagine that she is singing back
the nonsensical chants from my childhood.
I cannot comprehend the language
but its similarities to Serbian yield
slow flows of faint echoes,
providing an inexplicable comfort.
Searching through past epochs of memory
for slivers that could rethread our dialogues,
I spend years trying to write her one small
poem in non-invented English to say:
I am sorry for leaving,
but you have gone forward
to an even further country
and must have learned
so many new words
surely now you can understand.