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2nd Place Poetry Contest Winner: My Talented Aunt and Her Political Allegiances - Maxim D. Shrayer

My talented aunt, a musician by trade,

a Muscovite by origin,

and a Soviet by breeding,

took my older daughter for an evening stroll

to the graveyard, where some of the Kennedys rest,

and delivered this passionate tirade:

“In Russia, where we hail from,

there was once a terrible Civil War

between the Reds and the Whites.

The Reds only wanted to destroy,

the Whites were what we called the ‘white bone’—

the intelligentsia of the nation.”

My daughter described how my talented aunt

explained the meaning of the word “intelligentsia”:

“On January 6th the Whites were the ones

who went to the Capitol to defend our freedom,

our culture, and our great values

from today’s Reds who were on assault.”

What to say about my mother’s own sister,

my grandparents’ beloved daughter,

my very talented aunt?

The rope was taut. I was choking with anger,

but instead of another tirade

I pulled out my phone and scrolled through some pictures.

Members of the American intelligentsia:

the one with a Viking hat and black horns,

the one in the “Camp Auschwitz” sweatshirt,

the one who pissed on the floor of the Capitol building,

and the one who nabbed the speaker’s podium.

All of them heroes the white bones of our nation.


Maxim D. Shrayer, a bilingual writer in English and Russian, is a 2012 Guggenheim Fellow and a winner of a 2007 National Jewish Book Award. Shrayer left the former USSR in 1987 and lives in the Boston area. His books include three collections of Russian-language poetry and a collection of English-language verse. Shrayer’s new memoir, Immigrant Baggage, is forthcoming in 2023.

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