Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Poem for my mother's birthday

There seemed no end to my mother’s family
Casually she would mention some uncle
Of whom I’d never heard as if from always
He and I had known each other’s secrets.
Mention a place, no matter how obscure,
And some cousin had colonized it.
All her childhood summers had been spent
Among relatives whom now she rarely saw
Yet all their doings were known to her.
I suspected there was some mystic link
Running back to the 1930s: Lillian’s son will study
In Chicago; give Menachem more daughters
So one of them can be there to greet him.

Dan was married to Jenny, my great-aunt;
I saw him once. A very old man with a suitcase
On a very hot day. We lived in the back of beyond then
Some place the subways didn’t run. No matter;
A man traveled by subway even if he was 80
And would have to walk a mile or two carrying
A suitcase packed with things – old silverware,
Tea-pots, a stoppered blown-glass bottle,
Several opera glasses, cameos, a bracelet,
A blue and green polished rock. We were outside;
I can’t remember why. There had been no call;
Just Dan, out of the sun, staggering determinedly.

Jenny wanted you to have these. Dan wouldn’t come in,
Nor take iced tea or cold lemonade. He accepted
A glass of tap-water which I was sent to get.
Whatever they had to say was said before I got back;
No, he would not take a ride to the subway;
He nodded at his niece, nodded at me
Turned and started back. My mother told me
That he and Jenny both had had red hair.

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