Russia Ruminations

by Mark Chmiel

The Avatamsaka Sutra has this teaching:
The one contains the all

Today Anna Khodorovich and Zhenya Safina enthusiastically shared
Their Russian culture in our Intercultural Studies class

They gave us a fascinating overview of a world about which (I guessed)
People knew very little beyond stereotypes of snow and vodka

Thich Nhat Hanh reminds me:
I and Russia inter-are

My great-grandparents left czarist Russia
They came like hundreds of thousands of Jews to the US

I presume they spoke Russian as well as Yiddish
Did they see Lady Liberty in NYC?

I can look at my hand and see generations
Of Goldbergs and Salzmans stretching back through misty time

My poet and painter friend would tell me from time to time
“You’re so Jewish”

She herself left Russia with her family when she was 7
Arrived in Israel in 1979

Her Russian name was Yulia
Her Hebrew name– a necessity– is Yael

Anna and Zhenya talked about the primacy of Pushkin
Reminding me of when an Israeli (originally from Eastern Europe)

Visited Emmanuel Levinas and saw Pushkin’s complete works on the bookshelves
He told Levinas, “One can see right away that one is in a Jewish house!”

Our home as I was growing up was different:
A cheap encyclopedia set and Reader’s Digest

John, Cab, and I are gradually coming to the end
Of our long immersion in The Brothers Karamazov

How we will miss Alyosha, Fyodor, Ivan, Zosima, Grushenka,
Grygor, Mitya, Markel, Liza, Katerina, and, yes, Smerdyakov!)

The Russian students reminded me of something I’d forgotten
My father rarely talked about his Russian Jewish mother and her homeland

What one generation wants to forget
Another generation wants to retrieve

–Improv Wisdom Writing class, spring 2014

Advertisements