Saturday, December 29, 2012

The Lost Language of Gulls

He arrived a frightened boy sleeping in steerage wrapped around a sack of potatoes like a question mark. He came up on deck in the harbor to see a congregation of seagulls paper the sky like pages of Torah.  

Peretz remembered the Cossacks as clean-shaven except for their black moustaches dripping with drink. His people had the beards.

Later he tried to forget. He would buy and sell, socks, yarn, thread, anything. No salesman, he, but a peddler. Brushes, he bought and sold. The moustache he grew registered his forgetting.

He lived by the book’s commandments and raised my orphaned father to meet the mean streets with an incongruous grace. Where but from Peretz could he have tamed the tenement life? My father was a lamb grazing among Goliaths, hushing the yells and haggles from pushcarts.

By three subways and a trolley Peretz came to our apartment. I still see him in a well-worn suit, his weary face with full moustache, the Jewish newspaper and brown bag he carried. My mother fed him pot cheese and sour cream; a fleck stayed on his upper lip and those bristles. He opened the brown bag handing me a pair of argyle socks.

It was agreed I was to have a Bar Mitzvah. All my refusals, my disbelief gave way to a final Yes, only for Peretz. He was among the chosen…. having survived. I would not deny him that day.  

Years later when I knocked on his door he saw my full moustache and ran into the closet hiding from my Cossack face. The early pogroms had pillaged his memory.

Now his moustache is wizened into wings. Only I could spot the sour cream. Brown bags were carried off by the wind. For a moment the formation of gulls was an argyle in the sky.

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