Grandma’s Hands – Milton P. Ehrlich

were like burlap bags with fingers,
toughened by years of picking potatoes
in fields as vast as the eye could see
on her father’s Vilnius vegetable farm.

On Friday afternoons I’d be at her side
as she haggled her way down a parade
of Blake Avenue pushcarts, shopping
for Friday night and Saturday meals.

She always stopped at the fish market’s
tub where she would net a lively carp,
club him dead, mumble a quick Kaddish,
and make me carry it home for the good luck
I would bring to her weekly gefilte fish.
She also picked up a few pickled herrings
with a stink that never fully left her hands.

While her husband spent every free moment
praying in the synagogue across the street,
she took care of their tenement house:
Delivered residents’ babies, collected rents,
repaired broken windows that had to be glazed,
fixed clogged toilets down the hall and kept fire
going in their coal -fired kitchen cook stove.

Going to sleep she would massage my back
with an undivided tenderness that transformed
her calloused hands into the silken hands of a Geisha.
She kneaded the muscles in my back the same way
she worked the dough she used to bake challah.
She pried open sprouting wild flowers on my spine
that bloomed into a vine the color of love.

Now, I call my wife the Super, since she also unclogs
toilets, glazes broken windows, takes care of our garden
and does all the shopping and cooking.
As we grow old, my wife and I take turns
massaging each other until we are ready to sleep.

Instead of praying like my grandfather, I write poems
and release them into the open windows of the firmament.

Milton P. Ehrlich is an 82 year old psychologist who has published over 100 poems in periodicals such as “Descant,” “Shofar Literary Journal,” “Poetica,” “Wisconsin Review,” “Toronto Quarterly Review,” “Huffington Post,” and the “New York Post.”

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