where the writers are
Four Generations

At the Chinese restaurant,

we pose for a photo

positioned in a sort of pyramid.

i am at the bottom

my father leans over my left shoulder

and you are at the top, smiling broadly,

the last one of your generation.

your face a pale oval, like mine.

 

“Mama always kept a kosher household.”

i listen to your voice

as soft as the palm that touched my hand

when you told me about a great-granduncle

who’d touched your hand 

and told you one day you’d speak Yiddish as well as he did

“but Papa just loved lobster.  They made it 

at the Chinese restaurant down the street.

‘Not in my house,' Mama would say. 

She’d sit across from him

as he ate his lobster. 

She only ordered tea.”

 

You talk about how they met, my great-grandparents, 

how my great-grandfather saw my great-grandmother in her farmhouse, 

and fell in love with her instantly.

He asked her to come to America with him;

She waited till he wrote her,

and then crossed the ocean.

I wonder if I’d have had the same kind of courage.

I wonder about a lot.  

How much of you is in me?

Both chatterboxes, 

both unabashedly passionate about things others don’t always care for.

both forgiving of our sisters.

And how much of them is in me?

That ability to love instantly, 

to follow your heart.

Maybe a lot.

 

You tell me about two aunts

you never knew, I never knew

I always thought your side of the family 

was the lucky one.

and now, there’s the story,

these two aunts

and a husband

and a baby 

who would have been your cousin

were carted away on death trains

and died in a camp.

 

Tonight I’ve gained and lost so much

and some rarely-opened part of me is open. 

I feel I’m there with you, with my great-grandparents,–aunts,  –uncles,

in that restaurant, in Newark in better times, on a ship, in the fields, 

and standing looking at a chimney spewing ash and sorrow. 

You were outraged when my father, and one of your sons

married outside their faith.

You seemed a little disappointed when you heard I’m learning Italian,

not Yiddish.

But there’s faith within me.  Something deeper than professed religion

or what we eat or don’t.

I know all the generations are tied together, and carrying each other inside.

I am one of you.

I think you know.