Wednesday, July 6, 2016

FROM 1940

Beyond the computer screen is my mother
In 1940, looking at me from a census summary.
She is 13, still called Lillian, living in northern
Brooklyn --
The 23rd Assembly District -- with her father Joseph, 43,
Her stepmother Fannie, 38, and her half-sister, Tamara, 6.
How young they are! My mother has reached
Her full height of five foot nothing.
She has been accelerated, as we used to say,
Skipping two grades, making her
A very short high school student. If this is a weekday
She is wearing a middy blouse. If it is Saturday
She is going to, or is at, or has come home from the movies
About which she knows everything a bright 13 year old
Can learn from reading the news and fan magazines
With a skeptical eye. (It will never be easy
To fool my mother.) Perhaps she is in the kitchen,
With Fannie's mother (Jennie, 67), explaining in Yiddish
The plots of movies she's seen. Fannie and my mother
Have been at war for years. Jennie and her husband
(Charles, 76) have joined my mother's camp.
Jennie has taught my mother Yiddish
So that, once she has children,
My mother will be able to say things
They don't understand.
I’m not certain, but I think she's just told Jennie
That some man in 2016 is thinking of her.
"Eh," says Jennie, "just a ghost; don't mind him.
Everyone knows ghosts are crazy."

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