Dzvinia Orlowsky

Back in the U.S.S.R
February 26, 2023 Orlowsky Dzvinia

Back in the U.S.S.R





We weren’t the Beach Boys’ California girls,
weren’t the cutest in the world, no French bikinis
cut to fit our McDonald’s and Coca-cola
bodies. We bit eyes and a mouth into bologna
slices, lay the cool-skin masks
against our faces, sprayed Sun-In on


our ash blond hair until it streaked bright
yellow—a signature look—free, almost
graffitied, like yellow snow. Once, I surfed
Lake Erie to my sister’s cheers, stood up
on a rental board, balancing for a minute,
the tiny wave beneath me lifting and curling


just long enough to make it count—though
I’m not sure what for. O Maria, Chris, Nuni, Natalie—
even our theme park tissue Flower Power
blooms held seductively against our hips, O
steamy dance halls in the dark never
sparked a glance from any boy.



We swore we’d end up marrying each other,
exchange vows with dyed good luck
rabbit’s feet, key chains for keys we’d most
likely never own, doors that opened
to beauty queens who waved from county
fair floats pulled by tractors.


Then Paul McCartney sang it:
The Ukraine girls really knock me out!
What?  They leave the West behind.
Really? Back in the USSR. The USSR.
Our popularity was sealed.
We began waiting by our phones.                                                                 


We didn’t appreciate irony back then—
Come and keep your comrades warm
My father’s heated “Over my dead body!”
Let me hear your balalaikas ringing out!
“No patriotic Ukrainian plays
a Russian balalaika!”


But the Ukraine girls knocked somebody out—
Soon we, too, would be called to ecstasy’s
snow-peaked mountains.
Honey, disconnect the phones.
How exciting, at night, to rub bright
purple rabbit fur against our faces,


gently press to our lips
the tips of crescent nails.
We wallowed in the luck we believed
they’d continue to bring—
Useless Sad Saturated Relics
dangling from small chains.


Pushcart prize poet, translator, and a founding editor of Four Way Books, Dzvinia Orlowsky has published six full-length poetry collections including her most recent, Bad Harvest, a 2019 Massachusetts Book Awards “Must Read” in Poetry.  Her co-translations with Ali Kinsella from the Ukrainian of Natalka Bilotserkivets’s selected poems, Eccentric Days of Hope and Sorrow, (Lost Horse Press), was a finalist for the 2022 Griffin International Poetry Prize, the Derek Walcott Poetry Prize, ALTA’s National Translation Book Award in Poetry, and winner of the 2020-2021 AAUS Translation Prize.  Her and Ali’s co-translations from the Ukrainian of Halyna Kruk’s selected poems, Lost in Living, is forthcoming from Lost Horse Press in spring, 2024.  Dzvinia’s new poetry collection, Those Absences Now Closest, is forthcoming from Carnegie Mellon University Press in fall, 2024.