Heirlooms

1
He praises his new wife’s family. They are so genteel,
so polite, never raise their voices, and, he concludes,
they have heirlooms. Your family would have had
heirlooms—his Aunt was sharp, no emotions obscured—
If they weren’t all murdered by the Germans.

2
Sitting on a porch waiting, a large crate containing
nine cardboard boxes packed long ago, stored in a dusty
and dingy shed, now shipped across an ocean of time
and space, deposited on that porch, waiting…
an archeology of a refugee, treasures of a young woman
her life disrupted, fleeing to a Soviet security, where
anti-semitism was not quite fashionable, a deviation;
and when a depressing peace pretended returned to her
native Poland where anti-semitism remained fashionable,
her dreams of a normal life smothered
squeezed by renewed hatred and disdain
forced to hope for a new life in reborn Israel,
separated from the culture that nourished her.

3
Treasured books wrapped and mailed one by one, only
one at a time, from many post offices all over Warsaw,
collections of Polish poets, whose words she had rediscovered
while recapturing her native tongue, lost while fleeing
in Russia, safe from the German rampage, unlike the rest
of her family, grandparents, aunts and uncles, some younger
than herself, cousins (so many of them), the warmth
of the family lost, replaced by the certainties of war
and the music of the Russian language, books of Russian
poets, playwrights, tellers of wonderful tales, volumes
of them, each one lovingly packed and sent away
to await her arrival in a strange land, as well as the china
she purchased—She the oldest child in one small family,
all that remained of a once vibrant clan.

4
The son of her younger brother, the brother born in war—
father in a labor camp, mother struggling to provide food
when no one had enough food—raised without knowing
the larger family, bounced from one crowded room to the
next, never settled in any one place any one country,
the son of that rootless brother, growing up in an American
suburb, a rootless formless suburb, where Jews had no weight,
Hebrew school a distraction, regular school pointless, growing
up within a loud and squabbling family, that son—that nephew—
just wanted to escape his family’s untidiness, find independence
and freedom and belong, discovering a talent and joy in selling
where the rules are predictable and the values simple.

5
He glories in his new house, so neat, so clean, so tidy
in a quiet neighborhood, with trees and trimmed bushes
close to the mall and a superstore; a two car garage,
a deck with a gas-fired barbecue, and inside everything
matching, celebrating the cute; the past somebody else’s
bad temper and stories so stale; his new wife’s family congenial
without nightmares, conversation casual with a relaxed smile,
everyone a salesman, the present a preparation for continuing
prosperity, purchasing the new and the bright which is always
the best; religious, ethnic and cultural conflicts relegated
to dinner chatter, values defined by the market of common
consent; cordiality and the deal a his holy grail,
his future settled, his position secure.

6
They could take no cash with them, no furniture, not
even her beautiful bookcase with glass doors, only what
they could carry, so she bought china, china that is now
faded, chipped, cracked, most pieces missing, china that
made the journey from Poland over land to Greece, from
Greece to Israel and to a distant relatives’s one room—
joining the books casually tossed to a dark corner—
to a refugee camp, to a small hut under a bridge, to a room
behind a workshop and eventually to an apartment on the
edge of Jerusalem near the wall, with a Jordanian border
guard watching. There they were used every day, those
decorative utilitarian instruments, echoes of what had been
lost, foundation for a new life, along with those books beaten
and banged, yet still retaining their magic.

7
Now, unpacked, their history recalled, they stand tall
in lonely triumph —one family’s significant heirlooms.
Books written in Polish and Russian, with a few
in Hebrew added; china, the odd remnants of a set.
No one reads the books any more, not even she, her eyes
lacking the patience, no one uses the china anymore
superseded by modern dishes, dishwasher and microwave safe.
Now their role is different, artifacts, symbols, memories
of a generation that was deceived, dispersed and almost
devoured, that journeyed to a new promised land, a land
that promises so much but does not treasure memory.

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Copyright 2017© by Peter D. Goodwin