A Process Note
by Taisia Kitaiskaia
To get started on this poem, I spent time with Yuliya’s preliminary collage of imagery, the music composed by Yevgeny Sharlat, and the Russian fairy tale itself, which is about an abused child and includes a magical cow, evil stepsister types with various numbers of eyes, and bones that grow into a tree. It’s the saddest fairy tale I know, and one of the wildest.
The poem is voiced by the cow, the orphan’s only friend. The cow does everything it can for the girl, even after death: it takes care of Havroshechka’s forced chores as the girl slips in through the cow’s ear and out the other, and after being slaughtered by the enslaving family, the cow’s bones become a fruit tree to lure in a rescuing prince. I had this sense that the cow was always going to be grieving for Havroshechka, even if the poor child is ostensibly saved by marriage. To me, the cow is an eye always watching over Havroshechka and weeping for her.
by Taisia Kitaiskaia
I wish you a snout, a dead fish coat
so stinky no one will touch you.
Teach you to fry evil eyes in a pan.
Grant you a taste for plunderage,
milk down the chin. But even the fish
coat weeps, looking at you: A child
smuggled from plural winter, a girl
tossed out from thrashing nurseries.
Hostile geometry. Georgic sorrows.
Tail scraped, nailed to the barn.
So I became a medicine storm. Gave
you a hiding place between my ears.
Stepped into my own murder basin
so Prince might eat my bone fruit.
Still you fall through the Great Yawn.
Cow is a hide pinned open to passing
winds, the unshut eye of the cosmos.
My language marks your forehead—
the hoofprint blinks with perceptive
rain. Even now, I am working on you.
Taisia Kitaiskaia is the author of two forthcoming books: Literary Witches (Hachette/Seal 2017), illustrated by Katy Horan, and Ask Baba Yaga (Andrews McMeel 2017). She has an MFA from the Michener Center for Writers and her poems can be found in journals such as Crazyhorse, Pleiades, jubilat, Guernica, Gulf Coast, and Fence.