Literary Orphans

Oma & Oma Never by Bob Sykora



Helen in bed

asleep again, or

never sleeping. The old field

is hanging from the ceiling. The room

topples over and she

is alone in the pasture,

on her Papa’s farm. In Romania, she

is 13 again, her sister Ana is 16.

Helen won’t meet Franz

for another 9 years. She’ll fall in love

twice, lose a fiancé,

her firstborn, her sister,

her home country. But in the field

on the ceiling, she knows

none of these things.




Helen watching tv.

Jeopardy first, then Wheel.

Franz asleep. The kinder 

on the floor, twisting their

tiny bodies in formations

like those left behind on the side

of unpaved roads between

Budapest and Vienna.




Helen in the kitchen.

Cooking schnitzel.

The meat hums in the skillet

while her son-in-law

calls Franz Frank and she sees

a boy in the 70s, pulling up

on his motorbike, hair

dangling over his neck.

He smells foreign.

Why is he wearing a suit now? Helen!

The schnitzel is burning and

this man rushes into the smoke

and Helen can’t take her eyes off

his tie.




Helen waiting

for Franz to return

from church, from work in Oxnard,

from Austria. Helen remembers

waiting. Abwarten wird nicht 

einfacher – she never

thinks in English. She never

dreams in English. The kinder

scream in the yard.

The ball went over the fence

again. Her old tongue,

the language of her dreams,

her fields,

means nothing to them.




Helen in the ER.

Doctors speak

so quickly. Never directly

to her. Words she doesn’t understand

pierce holes in her consciousness

until she loses hold of her youngest

daughter’s hand and finds herself

riding in the passenger seat

in a Volkswagon through Heidelberg.

Franz smiles the way

he never does in America.

She winces involuntarily while

hands burrow through her stomach.

She imagines her son’s birth,

his death, the same day.

She blinks and his face is

one of the grandkids and

she’s ashamed. She can’t tell

the difference between them

when they’re still blonde.

On the phone they all

have the same voice.




Helen in back of the buggy.

She is 17 and she’s worn

the same clothes for weeks.

Twenty days since her sister

stayed behind. An airplane warns

the whole family to hide on

the side of the road. She stares up

at palm trees lining Ventura Blvd

in California, some sixty years later.

She’s losing Ana’s face. But she remembers

the Romani girls they met on the road.

She looks backwards, or maybe

they’re still up ahead.


O Typekey Divider

Oma Never

spoke about the letters

under her bed. Letters

from the old country. Envelopes stiff

from some ancient dampness, forty years

of forgetting. Letters from Sorina.

Her handwriting crooked

across the pages, reeking of a violence

Oma doesn’t understand.


How could she respond

to stories that don’t make sense

in the new world? They drink

no water, no wine or schnapps,

only blood! Young men

writhing on the floor, firing

imaginary machine guns,

color escaping their

bodies as they howl.


Oma’s silver tooth gleams

when she half smiles at the mention

of Transylvania. She knows tonight

she’ll dream of a red man on a red horse,

a red bird in his hand and

a red dog on his side.

O Typekey Divider

Bob Sykora is currently an MFA candidate at the University of Massachusetts Boston and the poetry editor for Breakwater Review. In a previous life he was a high school teacher. His recent work can be found in Devilfish Review and forthcoming issues of District Lit and The Monarch Review. He can be found at

Bob Sykora Pic

O Typekey Divider

–Art by Petra

–Art by NiiCoLaZz

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