Before she came to America your grandmother served three sisters in a chicken legged cottage in Russia, a dancing cottage that turned and turned among the trees, a woodcutter’s cottage in a clearing in a forest and the woodcutter was never home, a modest cottage that turned and turned with three beautiful sisters inside,
Woodsman’s daughters they were and your grandmother was servant to the three sisters and small and capable, and silent and quick, when she plucked a chicken she was a fistful of feathers and the woodcutter was never home, and the three sisters laughed at your grandmother, her clothes and her smell and her manners,
She belonged outside where she was born they said, she smelled like the skin of animals — and the truth of the matter is your grandmother DID spring out of the earth, like a mushroom, near a tree where the cottage pigs dug up roots in summer, and when she walked through the cottage a chill like outdoors followed her from room to room,
And the three sisters were afraid of that and they didn’t like the look in her eyes and called her Baba, as in Baba Yaga, and they called her that right in front of her face, and she said nothing and tended the smoky stove and cleaned things up, she pushed the handle of a broom through straw to chase away mice, when it was necessary,
And in the candlelight of evening the cottage danced and the pine forest was silent and watchful, and the silence was terrible and wonderful and enchanted at the same time, and the clatter of chicken bones and metal plates, and in winter the three sisters ate turnip soup and laughed and were very happy,
And the woodsman was not there, and the wind shook off the blanket of snow which covered the trees and the animals and the wet straw roof, and your grandmother standing outside the door of the dancing cottage, dreaming of America
~ George Wallace
George Wallace is writer in residence at the Walt Whitman Birthplace, author of 31 chapbooks of poetry and winner of the Naim Fraisheri grand prize at the International Poetry Festival “Ditët e Naimit.” Editor of Poetrybay and co-editor of Great Weather for Media in New York City he travels regularly to share his work with poetry with writers across the United States and internationally. Recent appearances in Kansas include the Gordon Parks Museum, Pittsburg Library, Prospero‘s Books (2012); and the 2017 Kansas City Poetry Throwdown. An interview with the poet may be heard via ‘The Poet and the Poem,” webcasts & podcasts from the Poetry and Literature Center at the Library of Congress.
Al Ortolani’s poetry has appeared in journals such as Rattle, Prairie Schooner, and Tar River Poetry. His collection, Paper Birds Don’t Fly, was released in 2016 from New York Quarterly Books. Ghost Sign, a collaborative work, was released in 2017 from Spartan Press in Kansas City. It was named a 2017 Kansas Notable Book. His poems been nominated for the Pushcart Prize and Best of the Net, and he has been featured on the Writer’s Almanac by Garrison Keillor. Ortolani serves on the Board of the Little Balkans Press and Woodley Press. He has also been a member of the Board of Directors of the Writers Place in Kansas City. Recently, he retired after teaching for 43 years in Kansas. He’s sometimes trips going up or down curbs. He once said that if he didn’t laugh at himself, someone else would beat him to it.