On lines and borders
It’s the smell of beeswax melting in the kistka. It’s a powerful smell that draws me back to my childhood, to my grannie, to things beyond the short span of my life.
And the sound of the kistka dragging across the eggshell. The small, slow movements and what they add up to.
How you melt the wax off the egg with a candle when you’re finished. How you can only write in beeswax; it won’t work with petroleum-based paraffin.
How words come when I write pysanky.
The word derives from the verb pysaty, which means “to write.” So someone who makes pysanky is called a pysanky writer.
A tyrant insists there is no Ukraine. He sends his army to overtake the state. Russian soldiers, these kids, fire rockets at apartment buildings. In turn, they’re slaughtered by the thousands.
I don’t have much feeling for nation states. I oppose with all my being their inherent violence. Conflating statehood with culture, history, language, and life can be deadly, a structure built to exclude. And it’s also within notions of nationhood that the possibility of relationship and sovereignty and identity might exist.
To drag a kistka across an eggshell is an assertion.
The story goes that as long as the pysanky are made, good will triumph over evil.
I don’t know about this good-and-evil thing.
I know it’s greed and lust for power and control that orchestrate such violence.
In my book, I change the wording: as long as the pysanky are made, life will continue. I see this pysanky writing as a wish for peace and sovereignty, sending this wish up into the atmosphere.
I can see how this will end. This kind of tyrant will stop at nothing.
I see the ones who thought they’d go to Ottawa to orchestrate an overthrow, replace an elected government with a regime of their own making. I don’t see much difference between them and him.
I have about a century on this continent. All my great-grandparents came over for the land. Fleeing poverty, starvation, oppression, a grinding interminability.
The story, as my Baba told it: if you wanted an education, you had to join the Communist party. She and most of her family refused. One relative joined, got the education, moved to the city, had a comfortable life. Story goes, anyway. They never spoke to her again.
My baba took another deal. Her uncle wrote a letter from Alberta. You can work for yourself, not have anyone over you. She came and farmed land that had been taken by force by the state. She was not told by the state the true story of what had happened. She later moved to town and had a comfortable life. It was half a century before she saw her family again. She had to break Soviet laws to get back to her village. She said it was like nothing had changed.
One cousin—my mom’s grandparent’s sibling’s grandchild—lives very close to Ukraine’s border, on the Polish side. She has a job cooking meals for the Polish border guards. I don’t know what her job entails now. I don’t know what her life entails, what she sees at that border. I’m told she’s quite matter-of-fact: Putin must be stopped for life to continue.
I write a line of wax across an eggshell. I find myself holding my breath. Lines are tenuous things, imaginary to actual. All you have to do is change the story and so the line goes too.
A beautiful, moving piece. My great-grandparents escaped Poland just before WWII began, so this feels fresh, sadly cycling. Thank you for writing. (I'm new to your newsletter, and to my own, and I've really been enjoying reading your backlog too)
And I am so slow to respond to your kind note. Thank you so much for reading, Jessica. Cycling is exactly the right word.