The women in my family warn their friends against Ukrainian men,
they’re like mosquitos, they’ll drain your blood like borscht.
My name is Bilyk, the Ukrainian word for “white,” the color of cold,
but as Kyiv burns, ashes coat the Maidan, there is no white,
there is only heat.
If my grandfather were alive he would swim the Atlantic
to spit in Putin’s face. “The Russians,”
he’d say, “were worse than the Nazis.”
My grandmother scowls when she mentions him, “I do everything
and he never once say thank you.”
But I saw her hold his hand in his casket, I listened to the service
in words I don’t understand. Ukrainian Catholic mass, a language
that bubbles from the gut and grinds the throat, in a church
blended by western tradition and eastern orthodox, a people
caught in a tug-o-war.
When I carried his casket women offered condolences,
I smiled, ashamed I didn’t understand the language, or the man I buried,
a butcher, a soldier, someone who never said thank you,
but I get him now, seeing pictures of 70 bodies in Independence Square,
boys clashing against policemen in riot gear, in a city on fire,
and the sentiment expressed, “we are not fighting for the European Union’s money,
we are fighting for their values.”
Xander Bilyk lives in Minneapolis, MN, writes poetry, fiction, music, and a comic strip, performs with his band Three Nuns and a Gun, does stand-up comedy, is an actor, and a sound engineer.