Fűr die kinder
We could never figure out how long
grandma had been lying on the floor.
She was whimpering my father’s name
and we could hear her through the door
when we got home.
That scared the hell out of me–
I already took her for a dybbuk,
as the old ones would say,
the way she suddenly materialized
without a word wherever I happened to be.
My mother explained how her hip must have snapped.
Or she had stumbled in the living room
and it shattered from the fall.
It didn’t matter much to me,
except she would soon be gone
from my world on 219th—
first to the hospital, then to the nursing home,
and on to the old people’s place, Bat Yam
in the Rockaways, which smelled more
like piss than the sea.
And, yes, I would have to visit her there
and still never know what to say.
But at least I wouldn’t have to see her
warming her hands over the pilot light
as I did my homework at the kitchen table
in the early winter dark.
Or hear her turn down dinner and insist,
Fűr die kinder which smacked of
some other world I wanted nothing of.
Or see her standing at the living room window
late on a summer day,
her mottled face striped by sunlight,
waiting for my father to come home.
How dare she take my place that way?
The Photo of my Great Grandfather Found on the Internet
It couldn’t be easy to hold their heads, that pose,
my great grand aunts and uncles seated just that way
and those who stand behind, distant cousins,
younger, obedient, and now without names.
All hands are tensed, not closed,
as if ready to grab some unnamed future.
But not my Yirmiyahu who sits fully at ease, legs crossed,
with just the start of a grin, perhaps ironic,
judging by the mien of those who were to come after.
Or knowing he bore the name Exalted by God,
why not look content and amused?
Who can say what that seer told them
to hold them just so–
about what he was doing under his hood,
and why they had come to his shop on DeKalb
near where their posterity would live proudly again
in Williamsburg and Bushwick and Bed Stuy to the east?
Could he have known that here
where all had been unsettled, crazed, inbred
would be outposts of the well-to-do and up-and-coming?
And what would I think one day
as I sit at this time machine
seeing one of my kind so calm and at ease
but, if truth be told, was likely so green
he didn’t know enough to tense at the call to
Watch the camera.
How quick it all is over.
Alan Walowitz has been writing poems for quite a few years, and currently in the far west of Nassau County, where he keeps his eye on New York City proper from his doorstep. He teaches some days at Manhattanville College in Purchase, NY, and at St. John’s University in Jamaica, NY. The photo which was the inspiration for the poem, The Photograph of my Great Grandfather Found on the Internet, can be viewed at http://pages.uoregon.edu/rkimble/webgenealogy/SamburskyPhoto.html. This is a genealogical website created and maintained by Alan’s 3rd cousin, Reeva Kimble.
I’m re-reading your two poems. Being a Pooh-of Little-Brain, (bad memory) this second reading is even more giving – more many leveled than the first. As a born and bred Brooklynite, but living in Sweden for the past 31 years, and Oxford (England not Mississippi) 18 before that, I love the being-brought-backness. But more than that, I love the construction, the style, the grammatical care, your whole thinking process and satisfying rhymes – I love a good rhyme: inner, outer.
Your style and way of thinking feels like mine and me. And don’t we just love what we can identify with!
How deftly Alan Walowitz weaves together diction and syntax to create such rich, beautiful literary portraits that transport the reader back in time . . . .
I keep submitting and submitting and now I see that I’m certainly not Jewish enough to be accepted. This wonderfully written poem is so Jewish, so my background, so much to identify with, so beautifully and delicately composed. I loved it. As one of my dearest Jewish friends now gone used to say, “Well done! (Love that phrase!)
These two poems were a pleasure to read though both were unsettling! Each in its own right examines the tenuous ties between generations who lived in vastly different worlds. They also reminded me just how perilous the journey must have been from the Old to the New World, and how difficult it is for a younger generation to understand what made our predecessors the way they were.
Fur die kinder portrays a situation I’ve witnessed personally through several of my friends’ families- an aging grandparent living with their children and grandchildren, yet appearing as strangers to each other.
I too have seen photos of relatives I’ve never met, and always wondered what they were thinking at the moment the picture was taken. I have also wondered what they would think of me if we could somehow meet.
Both poems are evidence that increasing aging can be accompanied by increasing vision and wisdom.
There’s poetry in the picture and pictures in the poem. This is another wonderful, honest, Alan-Walowitz poem–and more accessible than most. Thank you for posting, and inviting us into your family. More coming?
Fur Die Kinder-
What an incredibly touching piece!
Great poem and great photo–I’m still puzzling over who’s who??
Handsome looking great grandpa–runs in the family…
What about the name, “Sambursky”–how did it evolve?
Love the way you get the streets and towns of old brooklyn in, like Joyce & Dublin—gets you into the period/environs
Captures well the elusiveness, evanescent nature of time, passing, our passing….immortality?
Wonder what they were thinking, actually..