Elina Svitolina’s Tear

Shadow Puppets

Our doors kicked in
to see what’s there.

Sometimes bread,
sometimes vodka,
their rifles bobbing
in makeshift chairs.

Sometimes a sheet
on the basement wall,
our fingers dancing,
shadow puppets
to a soldier’s flashlight.

I did not have words,
but I understood
when women left
for another room.

Mother refused.
She held us close
in her iron arms.
I begged her to go
and save us.

She stole from neighbors
who had left their homes.
She worked the black market,
earned enough money
for two Russian soldiers.

They hid us in straw,
drove us over the border
to an empty field.

We began the walk
toward America.

First published in War Stories, this poem was based on a story
told me by Susan Starr, who was a young child at the time
of the Holocaust. It eerily parallels much of what
is happening right now in Ukraine. Elina Svitolina is the highest
ranked Ukranian player in the world.

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