Back to Issue Forty-Six

Painting in the Birch Field



Grandpa wears white slippers. He is in heaven,
but of course, heaven is a place: there are

trees, birds, moonlight. He stands alone among
mechanical birches with an easel and paints.

It is a Russian heaven. As always, he is doing exactly what
he said he would: painting en plein air, except it is night

and grandma’s memory is under snows of Zaoksky.
Petya and Pavlik are hiding behind a narrow birch, eyeing

grandpa with their little mouths open. They are adults,
but of course, in the dream, they have the bodies

of children. They are waiting to see what grandpa
will do next and if he will praise them. Misha spent

all morning with grandpa. He is a boy, too, handing
him paints, and they are talking about bogochelovechestvo.

A wind circles through the field. Everybody knows
the dream will soon be over. We know wolves

tear at grandma and the worn silks of her skin.
And too soon, exactly like a helium balloon,

grandpa’s slippers lift from the ground. He begins
to ascend, slowly. And Pavel and Petya are in horror:

they know grandpa holds regrets he never named. This time,
they will not let him leave. They run to him, but they are

too frightened to touch him. Misha reaches for his leg.
They beg him to stay. They say it’s not about them

and their penises; it is about mama, Lina, Masha, and Alyonka.
Where are the women? Can they fill his slippers?

But grandpa doesn’t move or speak. He doesn’t even
look down. He is peaceful, smiling, facing the horizon.

Misha notices that his weight won’t keep grandpa down.
That if he holds on to him, he will go up too. The moon is

reflecting in their child eyes. Bread crumbs cling from
Petya’s mouth. His hair dances in the wind.

Misha lets him go. Grandpa’s mannequin body continues
to rise until his white slippers are two dots in a cloud.

Konstantin Kulakov (he/they) is a poet and translator born in Zaoksky, Soviet Union. His poems and translations appear or are forthcoming in WitnessSpillwayHarvard Journal of African American Policy, Jet Fuel Review, and Loch Raven Review, among others. They hold an MFA in Creative Writing from Naropa University and are co-founding editor of Pocket Samovar. He lives in Washington, D.C., on occupied Piscataway and Anacostan land.

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