The Witch of Yalta
Once, I sat on a concrete wall, the concrete crumbling,
near a broken jetty, the wood splintered and rotten
where big ships had once docked, and now enormous
women, their old and wrinkled skin bursting out of bikinis
hold court, sit and sun themselves play dominoes or knit
and teenaged boys, their young skin tight and smooth,
strut, dive into the sea, bombing each other.
A cripple walks towards me. An ugly, deformed
creature, dragging a useless leg, her steps labored
and awkward, her body twisted. With every step
her body twists to the left, twists to the right
in an irregular, tortured rhythm, her face is twisted,
too, and a withered arm hangs by her side, swaying
with every ugly step, weightless.
This monstrous wretched witch walks towards me,
her face tight and tense and evil, her bright eyes
boring at me. She crawls up onto the wall, using
the strength in her one smooth muscular arm,
and sits next to me. Excuse me, I say, in English,
forgetting my Russian, moving my body away.
Why are you here?
she asks in an almost flawless English,
foreigners go to the beaches by the hotels.
Her voice is soft and musical.
I like it here, I reply.
Yes, so do I, she says
and she smiles
and she is no longer ugly.
Where did you learn your English? I ask.
In China, she replies.
In China? I echo, leaning towards this cripple.
Yes, in China.
My parents travelled to China in the 20’s.
In China, I was born.
In China, I grew up.
In China, I learned English.
In China, I contracted polio.
It was a long time ago.
When I was a child.”
Now I live here, in Yalta,
for the climate and the sea.
I swim two hours a day,
and when I swim I sing.
She sings to me, a song in Chinese.
Her voice is sweet and deep, caressing the melody, intoxicating.
Do you know, she asks, Long time passing?
Long time passing? No.
She hums, her melody sounds familiar,
It is so beautiful; I have been trying to remember it.
Where have all the flowers gone? Long time passing, she hesitates.
Where have all the flowers gone? Long time ago. I add.
Where have all the flowers gone?, we sing together.
The girls have picked them every one.
Oh when will they every learn?
Oh when will they every learn?
We sang together, as one.
As if it was a duet.
When one of us losses a phrase,
the other supplies it.
When we finished the final refrain she says,
And bows her head, very formally.
I smile a silly smile, transfixed
by this cripple this smiling, glowing woman.
When I swim, I like to compose my own songs.
Sing one to me.
She smiles, It’s time for my swim.
May I join you?
She eases herself off the rough wall, awkwardly.
If you wish.
I jump off the wall and offer her my arm, "May I?"
It is not necessary.
She takes my arm and we walk
she leaning on my strong body
me supporting her crooked body
we walk to the rusty, loose and swaying steps,
and descend into the gentle sea.
Once in the water, she swims effortlessly,
liberated from her terrestrial restraints,
her body in harmony with her liquid surroundings,
her movements smooth and graceful. Her voice
blends and merges with the music
of the waves, her face relaxes
and she is beautiful.
She sings and the sea echoes her song,
and I add my small melody
as we glide and drift away
from the chatterings of the shore
and into our own special
and peculiar union.