They Call Me Odessa

they call me odessa

name is destiny

my parents took yarn

threaded it through the ‘o’,

and the ‘a’

wove me into my history


shtetl turned big city slickers

odessa, russia turned odessa, ukraine

city of thieves

artists

and laughter


city of one

family of four

the stars too close for jumping


they call me odessa

scooting out puzzle pieces to make

room

sprawled between the now

and the collision of my great grandparents

both

from the old country

from the same city

the same quarter

odessa


they both escaped

to find me again

hiding in pickle barrels

ducked under hay trucks

rocky boat rides

Bottle necked odyssey

losing their first tongue

so readily, so vehemently

as if language could be scrubbed from

the skin like dirt from the road



four generations later

i am the old country

and i am the new country


mother tongue english

american blended freedom and possibility

they call me odessa

if they could see how i try to

reclaim their words

shver arbeter

shayna punim

oy vey

schvitzing and shpilkas


my yiddish as broken as their english

i try to un assimilate

a colonist of my own history


they call me odessa

the city they deserted

the home that betrayed them

city of poets

and mischief-makers


they call me odessa

but i don’t know them there

ghosts of a city i’ve never visited

but lived in, breathed in

because they never talked of odessa

never talked of their life there

pain

grief

a mask no artisan could replicate

that no one could penetrate

they call me odessa


don’t they know

that they can return now

that their odessa is waiting for them

that i am waiting for them

they call me odessa


name is destiny

but

name is also history


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