Studying Russian in a dusty old classroom,
pronouncing badly and trying to understand more closely
What Tolstoy meant,
beginning his novel with unhappy families.
Guided by the professor, straight-backed and eagle-eyed,
Who had one last lesson for me,
saved for endings.
Daily as we parted, I’d call out, “Do svidaniya.”
Good bye. Until we see each other again.
And she’d reply in kind, kindly smiling.
Until, after the last meeting, I turned at the door to say it
One last time, and learned a new word instead.
“Do svidaniya.” Goodbye.
Putting down the chalk,
“Nyet,” she said, and dusting her hands
I stopped. She didn’t move towards me, but her stern eyes melted.
“Which means we will not see each other again.”
I looked into her eyes as the room changed color.
What use would there be for such a word?
The firing squad? The death bed?
There are myriad words for “later,” “until next time.”
Words packed with promises of reuniting.
Hasta la vista! Arrivederci! auf Wiedersehen!
But goodbye forever?
Adieu instead of au revoir.
Words in Chinese and Japanese and Apache…
Worlds of sad, us-splitting words.
And maybe we are born into it, born to die that is.
Farewell, farewell, farewell.
That professor had shepherd-ed me
through Yevtushenko, Pushkin, and Pasternak.
In that dusty room we had shared my clumsy translations, her patient
prodding and nodding,
So that, turning towards the door, I felt the bitter taste of proshchay,
And let it close forevermore behind me.
Judith Simon Prager is a long-time instructor in the UCLA Ext. Writers’ Program, a non-fiction/fiction writer, lecturer, therapist, trainer of medical personnel and first responders in a protocol (Verbal First Aid) she helped develop about how words can set a trajectory of recovery. Latest book, a novel: What the Dolphin Said, about consciousness and connectedness.