Mylo Schaaf

She Paints When Not in a Russian Jail

                        For Yelena Osipova

You can’t forget her
frail body and cheeky black beret.

She carries two signs that stretch
from shoulder to ground.
Son, don’t go to this war! Drop your weapons
and you will be a hero. Don’t shoot!
Dead-black letters, underlined
in bloody red. A nuclear cloud exploding
over a family of shocked, white ghosts.

You carry the image of her stillness, as she stands
on a frozen street. The roiling, shouting crowd.
Swarms of police.

Nine helmeted men surround her tiny figure.
An arm in riot gear reaches
to bend her drawing away from sight.
She pushes back his hand. Her sign swings free.

You can’t hear her murmured words.
You want her to tell them that she survived
the Nazi Siege of Leningrad. 872 days.
A million and a half Russians starved, exploded, shot.
Why, she might be asking, do we invade Ukraine?

They take her away but the icon of her face
cuts into your memory.
Her eyes, round moons of hope. Watching
from the no man’s land
between history and change.



Mylo Schaaf trained as a journalist, editor, and physician, before taking a left turn into poetry. Before everything changed, she was teaching at the University of California, San Francisco, working with students in international, low-resource settings. Then one day, she received a horrific phone call, revealing the loss of her 24-year-old son, a mountaineer/peace-and-conflict scholar/veteran. Poems demanded to be written. They brought healing, as did warm hills, tree spirits, and arms of sky. Years passed. Poems continued emerging, as the knots and riddles of life unraveled themselves. We can’t stay silent when worlds implode. Her new book, Blown Into Now – Poetry for a Journey, has been released. Please visit: