Sunday, April 17, 2011

My Mama, My Hero by Katia Raina

Last month, Katia Raina wrote for us about the fear she felt growing up in the shadow of Vladimir Lenin,a Soviet hero. She also promised to tell us about her personal hero, her Mama. Today, she keeps that promise. It's easy to see why her mother was a tower of strength during hard times and also her source of inspiration for a brighter future!
Mama and I shared a life,
but when we look back at it,
what I see
     isn’t always
             what she sees.

The mirror to the past grows foggy.

I could tell you about the struggles my mama went through in the U.S.S.R.,
    fighting her way,
           making mistakes
                toward her own personal freedom,
                    through the stale society that tried to suffocate her.

But do I have the right to share her with the world this way?

I decided instead
to just show you what I saw,
through my big scared Soviet eyes,
when I gazed
        at the beauty
            and freedom
               that was my mama,
                                  my hero.
There is a Russian saying:
“The tallest blade of grass
is the first one to be cut down by a scythe.”
In other words,
        don’t stick your neck out.
              Keep your head level.
                   Don’t stand out too much.

It was a difficult balance:
On the one hand,
They spurred you on,
they wanted things from you,
expected greatness.
Dress your best,
        Raise your hand,
                  Show initiative
                          Make us proud.

But at the same time,
Even as they encouraged you to reach higher,
You could almost feel
The weight
Of an invisible hand
              On your shoulder.

My mama was a short slender girl,
But her green witch eyes
hit people straight on,
Her back stayed straight
She didn’t need heels
               To tower over the crowd.

She is Jewish –
People could tell
Just by looking at her.
          Her looks were a statement.

Her father dared emigrate
To the treacherous United States
In the 1960s,
The height at the cold war.
     That made Mama
             the daughter
                       of a traitor.

And still she wanted a Life with a capital L,
    Big dreams,
           big city,
She wanted
the best
  university in the country.

      She wanted.
           How dare she?

She dared. She fought.
I watched her from a distance
Of phone calls
           and visits
                              and missing her.

With delight and yearning,
I glimpsed her secret life –
The illegal movies
About dissidents
she and her friends watched
Projected onto a white sheet,
Cracks underneath her apartment’s door stuffed with pillows,
Lest the neighbors overhear.

I collected snippets of freedom:
Her friends’ laughter,
Her secrets shared in passing –
“Have you ever thought that God might be real?”

As I grew,
My country changed,
Mikhail Gorbachev became General Secretary,
The breeze of perestroika,
Became the winds of true personal freedom,
That no wall could any longer stop.

Mikhail Gorbachev
 photo from Wikipedia Commons is in the Public Domain

Mama’s unapologetic brashness
Became as cool as the jeans
She brought from visiting her father
In America

The 90s rolled in,
Finally, Mama was able
To take me in with her,
To Moscow

Finally, she could
Flood me with her secrets
that were secrets
no longer.

Everyone now talked about it –
The hideous truths
about our country’s history,
the things she knew so very well
a long time ago.
How classy your mother is,
My friends said,
I beamed, I’m sure,
But this was no news to me.

Today I sometimes wonder,
Does she realize?
Does she know –
How her secrets shaped me?

I wonder,
Would I ever be the same,
Would I be this brave –
                This freakish –
                       This crazy –

Would I dare
Be an artist,
Search for happiness
On my own terms –

Would I?
If I didn’t get to witness
My mama,
         My hero?

The way she dared
         To be her own person,
                     Long before freedom
                                              Became fashionable.

Is freedom in Russia but a passing fad?
Demonstration by the people during a 1991 attempt by Communist Party to regain control of Russia. Photo from Wikipedia Commons is in the Public Domain.

I hope not! For the next – and last – installment in this series, I am going to write about friendship – both personal friendship and a friendship between countries. I still stay in touch with my once best friend, Olga, but in so many ways, our relationship is drifting. When I hear and see the things happening in Russia today, I cannot help but observe the very same thing taking place on the global scale, between Olga’s Russia and my America.

Katia - Thank you for giving us this powerful, beautiful glimpse of your amazing mom. You've intrigued me with your thoughts about the relationship between Russia and America. Can't wait to hear more next month!  - Joyce


  1. This is a beautiful poem, and the pictures also added an extra dimension to the words. Katia's mother sounds like a powerful, inspirational woman.

  2. Beautiful poem. Thanks for sharing it Katia. Loved the images. She was definitely a mother to be proud of--and I can hear her in your words. She would be proud of you!

  3. Medeia and Carol - thank you for dropping by. Yes, this is a woman I wish I knew!

  4. Thank you for sharing this beautiful poem about your mother, Katia, that also shares so much about your personal background and history of your native country. Thanks, Joyce, for hosting this remarkable author.

  5. Clara - hosting Katia is a true pleasure. I learn much from her ability to share a world so different from my own. And yet, there is universality in what she shares. We probably can all see our own moms in her mother.

    I'm glad you dropped by!

  6. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.