Hard People

Alina Pleskova | Poetry

for Alex Simand

Watching old Soviet animations as a sort of secondhand nostalgia, our languages meld into a makeshift one. With cartoonish accent. Not the one our parents have, which we can’t actually imitate, or the one we shift into when we get drink-slurry or pissed off. Closer to the one we hear people put on & immediately know they aren’t one of us. 

Someone on a forum asks, “Why are Russians such ‘hard’ people?”

One response: When you have to do with almost no resources for generations you [sic], develop mentality of philosophers. When you are trained for generations that nothing is yours, you don’t mind to share, it’s better then [sic] being made to give it. Sometimes with fingers still attached.

You tell me how your father, a professor in Moscow, slept in parks & train stations, having been denied housing. I tell you how my dedushka, a self-taught master tailor, refused to work for the Bolshoi unless he could hire other Jews. A real mensch, the rabbi said at his funeral. In those years, I was told, anyone looking for a synagogue knew to ask for directions to a particular theater with a rotating code name. 

Knocking on wood isn’t enough to cast off generational trauma, so we were taught to do it thrice. Then spit over the left shoulder, the devil’s side. When I was very small, they tried getting me to write in Cyrillic with my right hand, but it didn’t take. 

Our names are the ones our families changed them to be when we arrived. And what are we? I’m a Hebrew school dropout. At your bat mitzvah, the Torah reading was transliterated into English. We call ourselves culturally Jewish. Ruskis with an asterisk. Still, in our mother tongue, we say нашиours—to indicate one of us.