One of these days, I’ll research the city
where I was born and see more tree-lined promenades
than mail-order brides.
Staring at a photo titled,
Inmates of The Jewish Girls’ Orphanage in Kishinev,
I’m wondering about the word inmate,
the imprisoned orphan metaphor
no longer a metaphor.
My birth country’s main exports include wine,
sunflower seeds, and human beings,
which sounds like a tasteless joke, and it is,
and it isn’t.
When orphanages are recruitment sites
for girls who age out of the system.
When anything—a Kalashnikov,
a forged diploma, an aspiring model—can be passed
between hands like cornmeal. My grandfather earned a PhD
in agriculture and flew aerial fertilization helicopters
over vineyards, but all he’ll say about it is,
Eh, it was the usual crap.
When pianos are dismembered
in search of diamonds. When fathers
meet firing squads.
I’m reading a map and
the only Moldovan city I’ve heard of is the one
where I was born,
the one whose streets I’ve never walked
because we left before I learned
the word legacy. When people ask
where I’m from, I say, Moldova,
which is between Ukraine and Romania.
Or, Moldova, the poorest country in Europe.
Or, if they speak Russian, Kishinev,
all of which are ways of not saying
the city exhaled me like a ring of smoke.
When I teach my children
about legacy, I’ll tell them
it’s what the bones carry.
It’s both the dog and dog’s chain.
It’s seeing map where you should see treasure.

For more information about this piece, see this issue's legend.

Ruth Madievsky was born in Kishinev, Moldova and lives in Los Angeles. She is the author of Emergency Brake (Tavern Books, 2016). Her poetry, fiction, and essays appear in Tin House, Prairie Schooner, The Iowa Review, Gulf Coast, Rattle, and elsewhere. She is training to become a clinical pharmacist.

The stretch of the 405 North freeway just before the 101 interchange

The stretch of the 405 North freeway just before the 101 interchange is my favorite view of the Los Angeles skyline. When you drive this stretch at night, the sparkling lights and immensity of Los Angeles leap out at you with no warning. It confounds and enchants me every time.