Perhaps it is just that I
do not have a mantle on which
to place the cherished artifacts
of my life, my parents
and grandparents photos,
a family Tanach, the tallis
my first adoptive father wore
to his Bar Mitzvah.
I have nothing, which this day
seems sadly appropriate,
for their history really is
not mine, never was, I
simply borrowed it for a time
but all loans must end
for that is their nature.
I have a photo of her
gravestone the worman
who bore me, of her
in her college yearbook,
of him in a group shot
of his unit, in uniform
but I still have no mantle
and so little to place there
if i ever did have one.
I saw a picture of you today, although
I can’t be certain when it was taken,
and while I can easily say that you
look exactly as I remember you,
that is saying nothing really,
for moments after I took the picture
we said goodbye to each other,
intending to meet again, knowing
the chances of that were minuscule.
I have returned your picture
to a place of safekeeping where,
some months or years from now,
I will pull it out and remark that
you look exactly as I remember you,
but more importantly, perhaps,
I will be keeping you alive, and
in this fraught world, that is something
to be appreciated, even if you
haven’t the vaguest idea it is happening
Be well dear friend, and if not,
be eternal for a bit longer,
be you dead or much alive.
I’d like you to tell me
about the village in which
you grew up, and how odd
it must have been for you
to have met my grandfather
so far from any village
in the heart of Lithuania.
I suspect you left
with your parents, exhausted
by pogroms, exhausted
by the Jewishness
that to them defined you.
I’d love to know
about my mother who
I never got to meet,
of your eight children,
but like you, she
is silent and all
I have left
is a small photo
and a volume
of imagined memories.
She is sifting through photo albums
deciding which pictures to keep, which
to discard, questioning why she kept some
in the first place, blurred, ill composed.
She sets very high standards now
wondering why some were taken, the sun
she says, all wrong here, the background
in that one just swallows the subjects.
I left my photos behind when I moved out,
so many of the woman I was leaving after
finally admitting to myself that she said
she had left me emotionally two years earlier.
Now I sit here and sift through memories,
deciding which to keep, which I wish
I could discard, questioning why I remember
certain things in the first place.
She will have far fewer albums
with only the best pictures when she’s done,
I will carry a mind full of memories
that absolutely refuse to be discarded.
I look at the photo,
me holding my granddaughter.
Between us we are 57 years old,
she has just celebrated
her first birthday.
In the photograph we
are both laughing hysterically,
in the photo
we are both young children.
In deeply hidden corners
of my memory
snapshots of my childhood reappear
from forgotten albums.
I want to know what
was happening just
out of frame, or
in the next picture in the series
but these negatives are lost
and so I am left
to draw my own pictures,
write my own story,
and accept it as truth.