As soon as I read about the albatrosses in the Times, I thought of my big sister. Natasha.
“Natasha—albatross ty nasha,” Aunt Lyuba would sing in the communal kitchen, slinging blobs of wheat porridge into my bowl with the cornflower border. Each time she’d shuffle the bowl from the stove over to Natasha-and-my table, her felt slippers would catch on the peeling linoleum floor, and I’d worry about my breakfast. But Aunt Lyuba never slipped.
When I started out, it was mostly about the adventure, following Ivan and the firebird, heading into history across the Black Sea, climbing the Odessa steps through the resistance, then the suppression which fed yet another resistance, following Pushkin through the tangle of fairy tales
We pass a lighthouse and you tell me the legend—
a seer, an emperor, his daughter, the snakebite;
the tower he built to keep her at the edge of the sea—
when an old woman passes us on the ferry,
sniffs us twice, You are in love, I smelled it!
and last night on the island, over fresh fish
and a pitcher of ice-cloudy raki, I asked how
many words for love in your language:
I was once in a denim skirt and cowboy hat, spilling milk in a grocery store. How many songs did I learn to sing I was the fool? I am a fool. I know I have been a fool— these are the early future concepts out of which I turned into myself.
At an artists’ collective near the Polish border about an hour from Berlin, I’d been taking a break from translating texts into English, a task I once enjoyed but was beginning to resent, as I was beginning to feel invisible—or was it burnt out?—in any case, I was glad to get away for a few days: it was my first vacation since I-don’t-know-when, and I’d begun to feel my soul was spent. Over lunch on my last day there, a woman from Seoul who went by the nickname Hae—a transliteration of the word “sun” in Korean, she said—asked what the word in German was for “soul.” Actually, the woman sitting next to her asked, but the woman sitting next to Hae came from Spain and was shy about her English, so when she directed the question at me I heard the word as “sol”—we’d spent the week speaking both Spanish and English—and said, in reply, “Sonne.”