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Korol Pays Tribute to Her Refusenik Mamele

Tablet contributing artist opens show in Manhattan

Marc Tracy
June 06, 2012

We’re kvelling over contributing artist Margarita Korol, who was invited to exhibit her show, Spoils of War: Ode to a Refusenik Mother at the National Arts Club on Gramercy Square in Manhattan. The show, which opens tomorrow evening with a reception from 6 to 9, features a series of prints that illustrate an original poem about Korol’s immigration story. Margarita’s poem is after the jump, and a slideshow showing several of the 17 panels is to your left. Come by tomorrow evening!


Thank you isn’t enough
To say to a woman
Who risked her life for you.
But it’s a start.

To see through
To the other side
Requires one to blur
The rigid obstacles
To foresee
A path
Despite the brush

She went by way of Vienna
A route
That promised better
Anything better than this
This waste
Of potential
Energy within the individual
These roots are festering

She went
Because the others
Could not
Would not
From the system
From the safety
That they knew.

And she took me
Small helpless burden
Sleeping on a train
Onwards to Italy
Where she waited
For more steps
Toward the outside
Life she did not know
But that was hers
Now that the outsiders
Stepped in

It is my first.
A woman in her lingerie
At a man
And his leg
To which I cling
As she throws clothes
At him and away
In a box
With her heart

She and me
We leave.
We go away without the people we were to be nuclear with
But it wasn’t to be
Not meant to be
Not fate,
But different spirits.
Beta fish who could not be in a tank with placid others
Where were their fins?
Totalitarian piranhas already bit them off
Or were they without them to begin?
Stay and float
But we swam and bit
Against the current

* * *

Screaming woman
An image that stayed
In the infant head
And carried through time
A marital tiff?
Could be traumatic
Divorce is hard on a kid you know.
More than that
Political and radioactive.

Babushka and Dedushka
Left the year before
After eight years in wait
Not as persons in a kafkaesque waiting room
But as pigs
In their shit
Not kosher
It didn’t matter
Man didn’t care.
No more jobs
I found out
Decades later
Nobody would tell me
Why do you need to know?
America is best country.

Back lash
He said we will wait a year
Convince his people it is the way to go
She waited

His starfish people said no
After a year
So he stayed
Weren’t we his people now?
I wondered often
He stayed
Starting over
Making beauty
That I love.

* * *

Before me there was them
Engineers who as Jews could not catch a fucking break.
Breaking backs first in schools
To get their 100%
And after oral examinations
They were not good enough
From birth
What to do?
Try again
Fight for
Success of the individual
Bureaucrats run out of official excuses
And must bend and allow
Engineers to become engineers.

When Deda petitioned to leave this place
That hated them
He was refused
And lost steam
Born to a Yiddish actress
Travailing Eastern European borders with her troop
A pregnant carny
Running away to Kazakstan
Diasporic artists knew the non-speakers were coming
To take it away
Them and their freedom
But others stayed
Big family turned small
Systematic loyalty killed
Like abused woman staying with man.
Why? No logical answer
Matters of the heart.

Soviet system said to have eaten up mother russia’s children worse than Hitler
No statistics
Statistics like a good wife loyal to patriarchy
Father Stalin father Yeltsin
Smooth his rage over
Allow it
for his anger
Is worse than this
Whatever this is.

Deda transplanted and becomes angry man
After escape from East to Midwest
No discussion
A too ugly past
Broken and healed over funny
Gnarled knots in the way of pleasantries
Okay, we accept
But not because we knew better
Deprived of context
We did not know
Cultural memory
Starts here
But now I know
Fighter comes out from battle
And to only see ruin
How to think utopically?
Love watered on him still
Maybe anger will be stunted.

Engineering jobs no more
When they said
I am a Jew and I want to go
Back to where I belong
(say what they want to hear
Believe it if you have to)
They said
No—Fuck you
And fuck your degrees
And your families
And your dignity

Eight years in wait
In debased lifestyle
Stories still in pits buried in the woods
Do not dig them up for it is pure
Radioactive pain

Years in wait
His first daughter meets a boy
They marry
No! We are leaving! No new roots!
They say to her
Like them she does not listen
Pulls branches toward individual happiness.

A dream:
What is life if Baba and Deda let to go instantly?
Life In Israel?
No not where they belonged
Opportunists head West
With two young daughters
And two old parents
And others
Schlep to Chicago
Oldest daughter meets American man
No babies yet so better picks
Handsome man
Kind man without soiled fingernails
Nice clean slate
Nice bright future.
Ideal that is illusion.

Choices made
I am born in thick of wait
Thank you father Brezhnev
I owe my existence to your regime.

Same week:
Nuclear meltdown
Sh sh sh national secret
The countrymen must not worry
Must not lose faith in the motherland
May day parade and skeletons dance proving Patriotic loyalty
More waiting yet to leave this dump

She takes plus one
And waits in Italy with it
until Americans say lets go.
Dirty Russians
Take advantage of their own women in wait
Trickery in the blood
From decades of marination in croney system
Almost sold as prostitute while seeking shelter.
Jewkrainians are a hot item to Italian slobs
Her instinct said leave
Smells fishy
Another narrow escape

Another day
To feed buckwheat made on hot plate to little girl
Free little one does not know
Close your eyes! Sleep!
I remember how
She told me
On the train

Okay. Obedient little girl always
Because I trusted her love
Forgotten potty chair on plane to Chicago
This small tragedy a luxury to girl in new life.
She does not know.
Family says “good.”
This is how life should be.
Spoil the milk
for it is rich.

Mama with baby girl
Starts over
Medical training in old country doesn’t count here.
Look for love
In men
And lost
Again in heartbreak fruit is picked off trees
Children like sweet cherries
Delicious lives cultivated
She tries
Strong woman
Like her mother
Who was our rock, our heart
Our Matriarch

Still love big in hearts
We grow full of the good life
I ask
I want to know
What happened
Where are roots from this fruit tree really?
Why do you need to know?
Reading black literature
Jealousy felt for woman
Who has a grasp of her roots
Ugly ugly rings on tree yes.
But with context of trunk
branches strengthen
Fruit flowers
Wisdom and love
Love for new fruit
And love for old root

Found answers
From Brave old men and
women who dig in dirt and
weed pain out
Feeling feeling feeling
In the dirt
It’s okay
And thank you to them
By the way

Mother’s other babies
Brother and sister
American born
Different perspective
Some Holes though at base
Fruit floating in space

And the paternal sweetness
Transplanted pomegranates in Israel
Now another kind of imported produce to America
Siblings still mine
Ripening and evolving
Tragic kingdom with a fresh fruit fallen innocently without systematic intervention
Even when watered
Even now in the democratic California sun
We are trapped on the tree wishing to have fallen instead
And now must cultivate something in this seeming wasteland of milk and honey

They did not tell you who you are
Roots buried with erasing dirt swept under table.
You read and debate criticism of big new country
“Down with these imperialists”
Opinions grow but
Roots unfound still

My sweet babies
We sit at the victory table with spoils of war
Don’t you know?
Look at this feast
And all they now can give you.
And bend down
Look under table
What is there?
So dirty
But put clean hands in
And feel life turned chalk dead
Clean hands hold power
Bring these fighters at the table honey
Sweet potential energy
From hives of progress
In American schools
And on American streets
And in American offices
Bring it back to them
And know who is eating it.
They are your warriors
They fought and got
All of this
For you

Now eat.

Marc Tracy is a staff writer at The New Republic, and was previously a staff writer at Tablet. He tweets @marcatracy.