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February 19, 2024


By Cora Taylor


My Russian tutor, who does not really tutor me in Russian, was trying to draw words out of me. He had just made me read a Pushkin poem about the witch of winter out loud, to criticize my accent, which still screamed "Ohio" despite eight years of study. "Did you ever have to memorize poems in school?" he asked.

"No," I replied simply. I turned out my pockets for something else to say, but there was nothing. I simply hadn't had to memorize a poem in school.

"I did," he replied. "It's valuable."

I struggled to come up with a reply. If I was airtight in my own language, I was worse in his. Finally, I thought of a response. "My mom memorizes poems," I announced. Once bushy gray eyebrow raised in interest. "Right now, she's working on The Raven."

"Why The Raven?" Andrey asked. Andrey isn't really my Russian tutor because I'm already fluent in Russian. Use it or lose it, my mom would crow. This prompted weekly lessons with Andrey, which are essentially interrogations about literature and my personal life, during which my accent and grammar are critiqued, for the low price of $20 per hour.

I confessed that I didn't know why she chose that particular poem. The next day, when I spoke with my mother, I asked. In an uncharacteristic show of secrecy, my mother demanded that I tell no one but Andrey. I agreed.

She explained to me that, during her ill-advised trip to Kuwait with the Red Cross, she spent plenty of nights lying in her bunk, certain that her "ass was gonna get blown up." She recited the only two things she knew by heart in hopes of lulling herself to sleep -- the Lord's Prayer and Psalm 23. Unfortunately, these passages were relatively short and lacked rhythm. They were insufficient to help my mother sleep. She promised herself, lying in her humid tent, that she would never let herself end up in such a comfortless, bereft situation again. Hence the lengthy, chant-like works of Poe.

It's a shame I can only tell Andrey that most intriguing thing my mother said -- at least, as my mother. But here, with the reassuring weight of a pen name, I can tell you:

Once upon a time, a brave nurse laid awake in Kuwait, unable to tell herself a bedtime story. She swore to herself that if she could ever make it home, she'd keep poems like so many well-worm charms with her, always. And she did.

Article © Cora Taylor. All rights reserved.
Published on 2021-10-11
Image(s) are public domain.
1 Reader Comments
Harvey Silverman
11:54:48 AM
Nicely done. Enjoyable read.
Thanks for writing it.
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