Tending the Past

— for Chaie

Wrap your feet in rags. Come stravaging
home down a lane between potato fields
as daylight waters down to dusk
and hearthstones stir with fire. Take off

your shawl. Bend to your stitchery
by candlelight, pretending not to laugh
at your brothers singing Etel Betel’s tochter
und Chaim Yankel’s zohn. Unpin your hair

and brush it to your waist at bedtime.
It is better not remembering
some names, some times: just drop them
like a glove, their loss unnoted

in the mystery of how this world rolls
over us. Rolled in the same old quilt
wake up a million miles away
from Meskaporichi. Through home

is all you see, even with closed eyes,
bend to your stitchery until the whistle sounds
then shuffle out into grey streets
where lamps already glow. Walk slowly

in your flowered shawl and listen
past the cartwheel’s clatter, shouts and horns,
the streetcars’ racket down the Bowery
for a voice as gentle as your father’s was

then take a man from home and love him well.
Take his name, although its syllables pile up
like fallen chimney stones. Brush out your hair
and sow the rugs of your apartment

with hairpins and tears. Wrap your son in songs
you carried from the shtetl, feeding him
on things kept to yourself
no one can make you tell.

Judith Harway, excerpted fromĀ All That is Left

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