My Aunts and Uncles in Heaven + Williamsburg – Arthur Heifetz

My Aunts and Uncles in Heaven

Aunt Mildred’s pinched
an angel’s cheeks again,
leaving thumbprints
the size of walnuts
Zei gesunt, she tells him,
how much you’ve grown.
She and Uncle Louie
harangue each other
at such high volume
that God Himself
stuffs his ears
with wads of cloud

Aunt Helen,
always highly critical of
everyone’s housekeeping,
runs her fingers over
the top of the Holy Ark,
and finding a little shmutz,
commences a campaign
to scour Heaven
top to bottom
until it sparkles
like her house in Queens.
Uncle Irving,
oblivious to his wife’s
celestial cleanliness,
is curled up drunk
inside the carpet
he brought to lay
on the Almighty’s throne

Aunt Esther’s white cat,
the aptly named “Princess,”
sporting a diamond collar
eats the choicest morsels of manna
from bone white china.
Uncle Sy is seated at the organ,
his giant belly propped up on the keys
as he belts out another Yiddish tune.
A former wrestler with a crushing grip,
the saints refuse to shake his hand.

Aunt Harriet is there as well,
sweet peacekeeper
for her family’s incessant arguments
about the order of the presidents
or the names of the Supremes.
Her husband, Morris, is a man
who knows more than
all doctors, lawyers, PhDs combined
but simply cannot keep a job.
He spends his day
expounding to the recently deceased
on the fifty cures for cancer
that the doctors never tell you.

The raven-haired Aunt Gertrude,
married at a late age to
fastidious Uncle Michael,
(who sells antiques
and is almost one himelf)
is the favorite of the children here.
Dipping into Michael’s Chinese vases,
they scoop up all the pennies
their little hands can hold.

God’s favorite is, of course,
my diminutive Aunt Becky,
beloved by every color and creed
in downtown Newark.
Her cigar-chomping husband Charlie,
mowed down by a drunk driver
near his newsstand,
greets the dearly departed
with a mischievous wink,
and hands them a copy of
“Nudists at Play.”
“If  you think this is heaven,” he says,
“take a gander at that.”


We’re coming back
from Brighton Beach,
I in my black trench coat
and tweed Totes hat
a book of poetry
tucked under my arm.
It’s Simchat Torah and
flocks of Chasids
gather around the lampposts
like studious penguins
greeting me with cries of
gut yuntef and chag sameath.

Suddenly I’m walking down
a musty hallway
reeking of urine and borsht
We knock at Tante Sarah’s door
and she examines us
through her fishbowl lenses,
undoing the locks one by one,
laying down
the huge butchers knife
she keeps for self-defense.
Uncle Slavit is in the back room,
dressed in stained pajamas,
staring out the smudged window
at the ghosts of his shayna kinder
lost in a fire in Gallicia,
now locked in each other’s arms
in a cold grey field
back in the Old Country.

Art Heifetz teaches ESL to refugees in Richmond, Va. He has had over 100 poems published in 11 countries. In 2013 he won second prize in the Reuben Rose international competition in Israel. He was also nominated for a Pushcart. See for more.

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