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Author: Tovli Simiryan
Location: West Virginia

diamond icon Tovli is an award-winning writer living in West Virginia with her husband, Yosif. The family came to America as refugees from the former Soviet Union (Moldova) in 1992. Tovli's poems, short stories and articles have appeared in a variety of literary magazines, including Ariga, Chabad Magazine, Jewish Magazine, Six Sentences, Jewish Ideals and Future Cycle. She has published two volumes of poetry: The Breaking of the Glass, and Fixing the Broken Glass, and a collection of short stories entitled Ruach: Spiritual Teachings of the Elders. You may contact Tovli at

When Clouds Were Real

In war, there are no unwounded soldiers." Jose Narosky


The sky is completely wrinkled and has a burnt look on its face. Uncle Dewey is telling a story about his war. In the distance, he watches a grey cloud threaten to turn red as it slides into the horizon.

He whispers, "They are coming closer."

We think it is part of his story and he falls asleep. He is happy, but we miss him.


When Uncle wakes, we gather around his chair and wait. He looks at each one of us and asks, "Where did you all come from?"

"The story, Uncle Dewey, we are waiting for the end of the story."

He smiles, "It all began before any of us were born and will continue long after we've become voiceless and too bored to rescue anything valuable."

The sky turns dark with slivers of light, invisible color, and no endings. "I cannot tell my story in darkness," he admits, and Mama brings him warm chai in a tall glass, reminding us her father's brother is old, frail, and not to be disturbed.


A week passes without stories, and all Uncle Dewey wants is to sleep and smile at the horizon. The morning sky is young with smooth skin, and expects something exceptional from sunlight and pleasant breezes. No one is disappointed. The air swells into white clouds that slide into the west, catch fire, and threaten to burn our hair and Uncle's eyes.

"It is smoke from the bomb that took Shuley—Comrade Shuley, my friend."

Uncle is awake, and again, we gather near his feet and wait.


He begins and his voice is that of a young man asking for forgiveness. "I must calculate every move, every thought to survive; there's nothing to aim at. Shuley watched the red smoke return to the sky and his soul splintered into pieces, but united somewhere inside the wind. He stained my hands and clothes as he left. Nothing remained and there was nothing I wanted to save. "

For the next month Uncle repeated this part of his story—the same words, over and over. He would not say "good morning," he would not say "good night," he did not remember our names, who we were, or what he had eaten.


It's Flag Day in America and the summer is hot this year. Dewey drifts further into his future and reveals Shuley was left behind among countless other dead patriots floating in a ditch somewhere between the Nistru and farmlands. Mama has made root beer floats and everyone is carefree and safe. Uncle is watching the sky, as usual, but he is not smiling today. Instead he worries the air is paralyzed and unable to move.

He whispers, "They are coming, they are coming," and Mama rubs his forearm gently.


"Who's there?" It's the middle of the night and Uncle is yelling while trying to escape from a dream that is chasing him. Just before dawn Mama calls for help. The old man is loaded on white sheets and disappears as the sky is about to catch the world on fire. He waves goodbye, babbling, "It's the red wind and I am somewhere inside, floating in mud and wetness. There is nothing to watch for, nothing to survive; it all began before we were born, it continues beyond the voice, and as long as my story never ends, Shuley is still alive."

Uncle is carried into the distance and no one is anxious to save what"s left. Still, we're pleased with ourselves, having made it to America where an ageless sky burns her soul into the landscape, and words with memory are no more valuable than the passenger jet's white vapor our children will mistake for real clouds.

ISSN 1941-0441

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