The Remembering of Things
Ghosts can’t follow you across the sea—
that’s why you left, and now
you can’t go back, no longer from the country left behind.
Homeland maps are traceable only by scars
and the three generations
since anyone knew our names.
Old Russian Mothers taught daughters
if they knew how to properly carve an onion
a nice man would come take them away.
Dice them perfect as sugar cubes and twice as sweet.
Don’t cry. Never cry. Tears are limited, life is long.
Mama sliced away roots, willed water to stay in eyes.
She chopped fast, scarring coarse wooden boards
before scooping them into pans.
It’s bad luck to kill the spider
crawling across your bedroom ceiling
in the morning, but you do it anyway.
A body at war with the walls,
you are forgetting your stories.
When you pass the graveyard tie up your hair.
You don’t want the spirits tangling
in your curls, don’t want them tugged free
by Mama when you get home, to ricochet
off the walls, bored they cause mischief.
Grandma says, they scare away husbands,
spoil the milk, the eggs, blow the coals cold at night.
Don’t hand the scissors, needle,
the wide blade of the bread knife;
set them down on the table,
within reach, unless
you mean someone harm.
When you pass the graveyard plug your nose.
Don’t breathe. The ghosts will get in, slip
between your teeth, make a home of you.
Already you wonder if there is enough space
for yourself under your skin, you couldn’t
bear to fit another.
Koschei-Without-Death must always die,
the tzar of life, always losing.
Pray he never finds you.
You cannot save him. Can’t love him,
you are not Vasilisa, his destined darling and death.
Pray you never learn to crack the egg on your lover’s forehead.
You are not Yelena, if you were you’d know what yolk
dripping down the forehead of a deathless man meant.
Pray you never hear his gasp.
If you were you would walk out the door, your name
whistling through his teeth—you couldn’t look back.
Pray you never have to learn how to leave.
The faucet only spills rust,
but no one remembers to notice.
We’ve always been good at that,
at forgetting. Writing our names on the back
of shirt collars so someone can help us
find ourselves again when we get lost—
but it can’t get us home. Only take us
as far as the cemetery, and not the old one,
the new one with the broad stone fence,
no gate to keep the coyote
with the sharp-pretty teeth out.
We let him wander.
Pause for a prayer—I’m sorry
we forgot what we did with your bones—but we find you
every fall with the leaves as we pull up old roots,
find you and wonder where you came from;
mis-name thighs twisted vines,
femurs, dry twigs, until you dissolve
in the neighbor’s hands and he calls Father
to come, to claim his kin.
We keep you in shoe boxes in the garage,
no markers, your names faded to dust and pottery
shards we can’t read anymore,
we don’t know what else to do.
The spoons, tarnish,
and the knives
in kitchen drawers
to the tune of domovoi
who live in bedroom walls,
keep opening windows
at 2am, to let shadows in,
to paw at the covers
until you wake,
body a shiver—
there are broken tea cups
in the ground and
you have forgotten.
that should be tied
up by the door.
Milk left on the stove.
Who asked him
to come? Wonder
in whose small case
he stowed away—
he is here,
in the walls,
to be remembered.
E.B. Schnepp is a poet hailing from rural Mid-Michigan who currently finds herself stranded in the flatlands of Ohio. Her work can also be found in Hypertrophic Lit, Maudlin House, and Crab Fat, among others.
Artwork: Brooke Shaden