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By Marjorie Stamm Rosenfeld
My children ask why I spend so much time with the dead.
I hunch over the microfilm reader,
squinting at squiggles of faded script
in a language I don't know,
It's as if someone is speaking in tongues! My back feels
as if I've been holding the world up.
My eyes are falling out, just as eyes do
in old Jewish curses.
I've been tracking a trail that's already cold.
But today I learned one grandmother came from Vishniets.
My grandfather saw her in Vishniets
at the village store where he worked--
a pigtailed girl who wanted a scoop of flour.
From the brink of the deep
black well in her eyes, he fell in
love with her then.
Now, with her,
I plod the unpaved streets of Vishniets,
appraising this world with her eyes--
the wooden houses where people eat cabbage and kasha,
make bread from black flour, where milk flows
out of narrow-necked earthenware bottles.
At the end of the town, a thicket
where branches grow close, touching,
pale blue forget-me-nots spring from the ground.
Across fields, early cherries
are tingeing the edge of the sky
with the blush of orchards. Tossing my
long black pigtails just like hers,
swishing my skirts the way she used to,
I walk in my grandmother's dust, follow her footsteps.
Ice has formed on a pond by a mill in Vishniets.
I hear it cracking.
It melts, streams down my face.
I am as close to love as anyone comes.
These are the losses I never totaled.
I am regaining them now. I clasp them to me,
unclench my teeth, whisper Mine. Mine.
Originally published in Clark Street Review. Republished in Magee Park Poets Anthology, 2005.
from the April 2012 Edition of the Jewish Magazine
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