By Vera Sirota
Rusalka is the Ukrainian word for mermaid. This poem is dedicated to one of the special rusalkas in my life.
My rusalka When I attempt to comb your curls you wail like a whale weeping it hurts please stop salty anguish washing over your face My heart aches to see how you resent your father’s blossoming coils Let me tell you a story, sweet girl You are an Odessan rusalka you swim where water is welcoming and azure mermaids require a singing seashell to brush their tendrils here is yours Your hair is strong– like your blood Your hair is like you– defiant and beautiful
I recently took a writing course entitled “Poetry is Not a Luxury: Writing As Essential Act” through the Poetry Barn. The course was taught by the amazing teaching artist and poet, Kim Noriega. The course used Audre Lorde’s famous essay, “Poetry is Not a Luxury,” as the foundation to “pursue [y]our magic and make it real.” The generative writing prompts got my magic flowing, which led to this personal piece. Thank you for letting me share it with you!
I must point out the beautiful illustration that accompanies the poem, which was designed by an artist and dear friend of mine, Chesleigh Meade. She brings the words to life—especially the rusalka’s hair. A million thanks to Chesleigh for sharing her immense talents for this project.
Vera Sirota is a poet, freelance writer and teacher. She was a NYC public school teacher and teaching artist specializing in writing instruction. She wrote her master’s thesis about using photography as a writing tool for English Language Learners. Vera was raised in a bilingual and bicultural home as the granddaughter of Ukrainian immigrants. Vera serves as a mentor for Girls Write Now, NYC’s premier creative writing organization for high school girls and gender-expansive youth. She is a finalist for The Poetry Barn’s 2022 Poetic License contest. Vera’s poems are forthcoming in the anthology: Ukrainian American Poets Respond. Her work was also published in The Poetry Distillery.