My Jewish Grandmother – Jennie Mintz

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The menstrual darkness
of bootlegger Blackberry wine
in the glass portico bottle,
was your mother’s sleeping pill.
You forged your own escape route
by taking the Xanax,
passing it around, to us,
like a box of imported pecans.

Your parents had sailed
to Ellis Island, leaving behind
the Habsburg Empire,
the shattered storefronts of pogroms,
nights of broken glass,
hiding places, a ghetto armband.

Your Orthodox father
went to temple twice a day
on the lower-east side.
With no need for Talmud scholars, here,
he labored as a garment presser
with the spit hiss of steam,
turning his skin pink as a shank of beef,
snapping on his suspenders,
bringing home a stained bib shirt
to wash and hang dry.

By day, you cried slumped in a chair
in your dark kitchen,
with your bleeding ulcers,
for which you drank warm milk.
You had no use for psychiatric pills.
Craziness, you said, will brand
you from cradle to grave.
You were right.

In Queens, my father walked
on the other side of the street
in his haberdashery suit,
to distance himself from you
with your orange pea coat
over rumpled flower finery.
You sprayed your neighbor
with the garden hose,
and feared reprisal,
triple locking your door.

You slopped together brisket
and liver, elbowing us out of the way,
your bossy whistle-blowing
and let me do it battle song.

What pleasure was this?
I loved your smell of mothballs
covered in sweet perfume,
in your paisley housedress,
your pendulous breasts.
When your mood tilted
the blue wobbles in your eye,
cold as the Ukraine sky
your parents left.
Your blue underwear
you grew tired of washing.

When Grandpa died,
you swayed with a bellow,
propped between the pillars
of your two sons,
as they rocked you towards
the deflated old man in his casket –
an accountant, then taxi driver,
owner of a commissary stand
famous for its cotton candy.

Once a week you set your
freckled beef-chunk arms,
swollen from fibromyalgia,
on your vinyl tablecloth,
to your humming task
of filling your checkerboard pillbox.
After the death of your son,
you started taking Paxil,
that you claimed saved your life,
and served us bialy bagels.
You tucked your dentures
into a pink box every night
and mumbled I love you to me
like a baby with no teeth.

Now your mouth is like a warm grave.
No more sharp alligator teeth
to bite away emptiness with.
No more glass shards
sparkling in your eyes like blue diamonds.
No more six pointed stars
to scrape away our tainted genes
or chain to darkness.

 

Jennie Mintz is half-Jewish and half-Japanese. She grew up overseas in underdeveloped countries. She studied English and History in college, and then began writing poetry. Her poem “Little Dresses” was published in Issue 43, 2015-2016 of Paterson Literary Review.