Tuesday, February 2, 2016


One day in her home town my grandmother Esther
Saw the ghost of the Emperor. This surprised her;
Franz Joseph was alive and even if he wasn’t,
Why would he be selling used clothes in Lemberg?
Still, she had no doubt. This was the face she’d seen
On stamps and coins, in schools and post offices.
She had always a soft spot for the Emperor;
And many decades later, in far-off Brooklyn,
Deemed herself still a reasonably loyal subject.
Her husband could, if he wanted – and he did –
Vote for Roosevelt but she, having grown up
With a monarch, considered a president
To be something inconsiderable. Franz Joseph
Did not roam about asking people to elect him.

Esther was 15 that day in the market with no intent
Of ever leaving Lemberg. Sometimes in her dreams
She flew, but when she looked down, saw the Poltowa,
Its bridges filled with statues which craned their necks
To see her flying by, waving at them.
(Her ninth child, my father,  also flew in his sleep
But I don’t know if he ever saw the Poltowa.)
Brave, she walked up to the Emperor
Who was extolling a pair of almost new pants
To a skeptical buyer, stretching the cloth
In his semitransparent hands. He gave her a smile
Behind his enormous mustache. How we have dwindled!
I cannot talk to dogs; I cannot fly in dreams
The closest I’ve been to an emperor is not very close
Though Dwight Eisenhower walked into my mother,
Knocking her down, three months before I was born.

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