While looking for something else I came across an issue of Third Rail, a literary magazine that published two of my poems 37 years ago which I had forgotten I ever wrote. They’re not bad except I‘m not quite in the same place anymore. In those days I was more identified with orthodoxy both religious and political. A word of explanation.
The Communist Party in the U.S., during the late 30s and early 40s, had two outstanding features. Domestically they were the benign voice of compassion for the oppressed…..Jews, Blacks and the down-trodden masses. On the other hand they were apologists for the U.S.S.R. which, ironically, persecuted Jews, peasants and anyone else with a whiff of dissent about them. Of course Party members knew nothing about Stalin’s tyranny or at least they threw a blind eye at all the abuses of the Soviet state.
As a kid I romanticized the left-wing movement of which my parents were a part. It was a joke to imagine my father overthrowing the government; he couldn’t even overthrow my mother as she cursed the landlord for holding back the heat in winter. In my mind the members of the Party were angry but gentle folks who sat around commiserating. After all, Russia was our ally and largely credited with turning the war at Stalingrad.
It is the last Tuesday of the month.
They arrive by subway and trolley,
defeated in their bodies up the four story walk-up
filling the room on the other side
of my bedroom wall. It is 1943. I am ten.
Old enough to know this air is humid with Truth,
That Truth has stained their shirts.
Their curses of Wall St. are Truth.
When Morris, the tailor, shouts that too is Truth.
Tomorrow he will be silent with pins in his mouth.
My father with his soft voice triturates the enemy
And I fall asleep driving Nazis from Stalingrad
In a violent peace knowing this apartment is blessed
With Truth seeping through the wall.
I cannot for a minute be wrong.
If I’m wrong about geometry
I could be wrong about East and West.
If I’m wrong about who is the best shortstop
all my heroes could be wrong.
The world is the length of my arm
holding the N.Y. Times, hiding me in black and white.
My lips are covered with slogans.
I watch my father in the drugstore
with his mortar and pestle
grinding Fascists into dust.
Two F.B.I. agents at the door.
They want names. They want my father.
Politely they get him.
He cannot heal himself. He sinks.
Now my father has gone to his father.
I have gathered him inside me.
I light the Yahrseit candle on the kitchen table.
His shadow is enormous on the wall.
His tongue in the glass
sings of all the sorrows he swallowed.
Later I will drink from this glass
some hot tea, a cloth wrapped around.
He never wrote a thing
but your Grandpa was a scribe.
A real Levite. Believe in that.
No one heard what he heard
all day in the store,
short stump of a pencil in his ear.
He held on to what others threw away.
Across the kitchen table he told it best
while eating the heels of rye bread.
He listened and he sang a real song.
Don’t believe he never wrote a thing.
Your Grandpa was a Levite.
His voice moves through your hands,
a Levite’s hands, weaving poems from wool.
Believe in that.
Believe your loom speaking
what has never been said before.
The fibers grow like an ancient tree
rising from the soil
knowing how to make room
yielding to fingers and roots.