Scoundrel Time

Ukraine Poems by Rachel Sahaidachny

Refuge for the Displaced Persons

—for Ivan & Anastasia Sahaidachny and family



The rain tastes charred.
My mother calls it ruin rain
it leaves streaks of ash on our skin.

Somewhere a home is burning,
once it was ours.

We hide in the woods so long
we’re so hungry we dig a grave

Mother says she has been hungrier
she has eaten charred lumps of clay,
this is what to feed the children.

The men must walk ahead.
I can’t feel my legs to disappear—
outside so long no one would recognize us.



They hold a gun to my father’s face
because he wants to pass the line

they say women and children only

I lose my grip on my sister’s hand
as we cross the river

water surrounds me: I hear my mother
and her sister crying   I hear my father crying

seated in the long grass alone among the bodies
of the other young men.

“They let me go,” he says, “they let me go.”



They say on the other side of the water
we won’t have to dig graves.

We cross the river again
black claw bobbing my neck
my father holds my hand

I drag my sister
behind me like a doll.
I feel bones through my father’s palm.



Inside the concrete block building
everything stone-washed dim
beneath flickering fluorescents

we are pinned
against a chain link fence,
our shoulders bruise as we crush.

They face us from the other side
in their uniforms holding buckets.

Mother’s dark hair falls into her face
her hand reaches to catch
crumbs they toss from their buckets
for our breakfast after our sleepless
night on the floor of this shelter

built for refugees. Detained, our skin
thickened from dehydration
pinch us, watch our flesh spike—



We changed our names
we sound familiar
we are Mary and Nancy and John

now our tongues move foreign in our mouths.

We have a box of photos and memories                                           
of the ones we will never see again.

We are burned by hot steel in the factory
and return to work.



When I go to school I don’t speak
your language

when I go to school I don’t wear underwear
you show me how to swing
how my skirt billows

my tongue sticks to the roof of my mouth
you send me for speech therapy

At night my father sings and sings
and I dance
and I dance my arms streamers through the air



What about my mouth is different
than your mouth
what about my words makes them less than

when I yell out
my tongue falls,
I bite it so hard I feel it in my spine

imagining my ribs splintered
as if I keep breathing deeper

you will open the gate—



Baba’s Blueberry Vareniki

Every summer we entered her kitchen
one wish in mind – to get the biggest messiest
blueberry vareniki from her dish.
Pale skins, moon shaped, purplish
bruises of blueberries close to bursting
through the sweet dumpling dough.

My sister, my cousins, & I dipping
our hands into the bowl—

When we bite in
juice bursts on our tongues
squirts & leaks down our chins
& it is so sweet blueberry delicious,
we wipe our hands across messy mouths
we lick, obnoxiously & overdramatic
the sticky essence from our fingers
laughing with our blue stained teeth.



Rachel Sahaidachny is Executive Director of The Big Silence, a non-profit foundation that provides resources and support to anyone directly or indirectly impacted by mental illness. She is also a poet, writer, and editor. She serves as an associate editor of The Indianapolis Review. Recent writing has been published in The South Dakota Review, The Southeast Review, Radar Poetry, Indiana Humanities and others. Visit or @rockwellsays on Instagram to discover more.




Image By: Rachel Sahaidachny