October 21, 2009

Nancy J. Thompson

MEMORIES OF MY JEWISH AUNT

She was European.
I understand that now,
but as a kid, oy, what did I know
about accents? In her whispery voice
she talked funny, that was all,
and had a mole, and silvery gray hair
that once was black,
blacker than thick smoke. She was beautiful then,
in the photograph of the black-smoke hair,
and thinking back, she’d been beautiful still,
hidden away in that Bronx flat
rattled by the El. She was like a spirit
wrapped in a housedress and a smile,
but what do I remember? In the kitchen
listening to my lapsed Catholic uncle talk
only about the latest horse race won,
what did I know from looking for a mezuzah
over the door, or doing the math,
how many years since 1944? She died,
childless, left me her occupation china,
vibrant hues of birds and clouds. A fool,
I gave it away. What did I know about
the importance of continuity,
about keeping a flame lit,
about the flames?

from Rattle #27, Summer 2007