Nicole Yurcaba

Visiting the Dying Uncle

A Soviet-something existed
in the reality that the sanitarium
sent dyadechko Alexi home to die.
Even at undefiled age three,
I felt something amiss
as my father led me into
the dimly lit Shamokin Street house,
told me to behave and to be quiet.
"Is this Pop Pop Lesko?" I whispered
as the aged front door creaked "Welcome."
"No," my father grimly answered,
"This is dyadechko Alexi. Lesko died long ago."
The ancient uncle sat, massive himself
--like the Cossacks of Baba's folktales--
in a massive reclining chair,
with a sickly paleness offset by fossilized, runny tattoos
on his wrinkled arms.
I stood, the brightest sunflower on the steppes,
beside my father, clenching my father's hand
with mine, afraid of the dying dyadechko
who wanted to hug me.
I wanted to open the grimy window beside
dyadechko Alexi's chair, draw back the curtains
and let the outside light touch him, but instead
I uttered politely "Hello" when my father
pushed me, a coveted offering, forward to dyadechko.
"Nicole," I answered when Alexi asked my name,
and now, at 26, I can't recall what Uncle Alexi said.
Other than the visit's first initial moments, the room's
Reaper-stillness and sickening darkness,
and dyadechko Alexi's
massive figure in the figure-consuming chair,
that day has become a burnt paragraph
from a long ago chapter.
Perhaps the dying dyadechko called my father "Mykola"
one last time.
There is an empty longing in my mind's chambers,
in my adult soul, that hopes he did,
that before we left that room where death and life,
blood and family, warrior-clashed
my father and dyadechko Alexi spoke to each other
in the old tongue--that sacred tongue that Stalin pursued to silence
and so many others failed to understand or to interpret, that America
replaced with a dull accent, void of emotion and passion--
and gave the dying dyadechko, our beloved Alexi,
one final taste of his native Ukrayina.

Nicole Yurcaba hails from a long line of coal miners, Ukrainian immigrants and West Virginian mountain folk. She is an adjunct instructor of English and Developmental Reading, substitute teacher and farm hand hailing from West Virginia. She recently completed her Master of Humanities in English at Tiffin University. Her work has appeared in print and online journals such as VoxPoetica, Referential Magazine, Rolling Thunder Quarterly, Decompression, Hobo Camp Review, The Camel Saloon, Jellyfish Whispers, Napalm and Novocaine, Floyd County Moonshine and many others. In life, she enjoys taking the unbeaten path, and usually exits the scene pursued by bear. Her first collection of poetry, Backwoods and Back Words, is available at


  1. Great imagery here:

    "with a sickly paleness offset by fossilized, runny tattoos
    on his wrinkled arms.
    I stood, the brightest sunflower on the steppes,"

  2. Beautiful images. I spent several years in Ukraine (as a Peace Corps volunteer) and feel a great affinity for the culture. Thank you for the window into Yurcaba's work. - Ginn, In Sunny SC


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