Children have an innate sense of their ancestry. I was a child of the city it’s streets my paths, always under the watchful eye of my warden – mother.
Dirt was to be avoided at all possible cost, so I never dug my hands into the fertile soil of my village in the heart of Lithuania, or tasted the readying harvest that dirt would remember.
I never stole a nip of poitin only the Manischewitz which, in our home, masqueraded as wine fit for drinking. It is only now in my second childhood that the ancestry very deep in my DNA has finally found purchase in my mind and soul.
Along the banks of the barge canal in the village park, a man older, his hair white, almost a mane, sits on the breakwall feeding Wonder bread to the small flotilla of ducks. Tearing shreds of crust from a slice, he casts it onto the water and smiles as they bob for the crumbs. He tells them the story of his life as though they were his oldest friends. My Anna, he says, was a special woman, I met her one night in the cramped vestibule of an Indian take away in London during a blackout. We heard the sirens and then a blast, not far off. She grabbed my arm in fear. She was from Marlow-on-Thames, she lived in a small flat in the Bottom, she worked days in a millinery, and at night tended bar at the Local, until the war. She’s been gone two years now and I miss her terribly especially late at night. A goose slowly swims over awaiting her meal, she looks deeply into his eyes. How are you, dearest Anna, it is not the same without you late at night when the silence is broken again by the sirens.
First Published in Friends & Friendship Vol. 1, The Poet, 2021
It will soon enough be time again, I am an old clockface on a tower at which no one but the truly bored bother to look, tucked in a corner of a village half empty, its life moved away to places cooler, less stormy. So I sit and watch what life remains around me, the few children wishing they could be elsewhere, some parents wishing they had used birth control. No one looks, no one really cares but I have little choice, it is my fate to mark passages, entrances, but my hands are growing tired and at some not far off point they will stop moving, and I wonder if anyone will care.
The dog refuses to walk around the house and check the driveway, and so the shells will rain on the village as they do each time she senses fear.
She has a sight beyond that I can fathom, curled under the heat vent, as though the cries of children carry in her dreams, her tail dances against the grate.
On most nights when she makes her final trip, the automatic light over the garage flips on and we can all sleep peacefully until we realize that God has chosen a furry surrogate, lives resting between her paws.
He can spend hours on the wooden bench in the small square in the center of the village. There he is but a statue, staring up at the giant clock face that looms over the square from the turret of the Village Hall. He likes to watch the long hand, arrowlike, make its slow, but inevitable movement, circling the blank outward gaze of the numerals. He does not care much for time, has too much of it some say, too little left, he knows. But here, as he stares fixedly, it stops. There is no motion in that instant, there is only the instant of time. It is no longer real, it is a thought lost or forgotten, and there is only the single moment in which he sits on the wooden bench in the center of the village.
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, the seventh 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.
It is the wet season when the rains wash the village carrying off the detritus of poverty. On the adobe wall of the ancient town hall some villagers say a face appeared one morning. To some it was the face of Christ to others that of an old man a former mayor, perhaps, to most of the tourists from the nearby resort no more than random discoloration of the aging plaster that clung to the beams by the force of will. They arrived by bus and rusting pick ups, bowed to the wall and reached out gingerly like children touching the flame of a candle. To the mason it was a job that would feed his family for another week.
First appeared in Erothanatos, Vol. 3, No. 3 July 2019, Pg. 40