Friday, December 9, 2016

Last Passage by Shulamith Chernoff

          To my mother Shoshanna, 1893–1994

Your skin is stretched taut
on concave bone, worn thin
by ninety-nine years of battle
with wind, sun, and bursts
of joy and rage.
Your arms that commanded
now quiver, your shrill voice
has softened.
The sapphire blue dress
on your thin shoulders,
a shroud of rustling silk.

Your eyes still retain
their cobalt blue, peer through
the veil of memory.
You recall dense
Polish forests, thrusting trees that
pierce clouds and sky.
Your small town Tarnov,
close to Kraków.
You remember the mushrooms
that carpeted the fields
like waxen flowers.
You see the peasants who
plucked feathers from fattened
Polish geese. You feast on berries,
red garlands that cascaded
from baskets of straw.
The peasant market throbbed
with a babble of tongues,
rising in the humid afternoons.

You have not forgotten
the hymn to Kaiser Wilhelm,
or the samovar and feather bed.
Your silver candlesticks
passed from hand to hand.
You remember all the names
of the first-grade children
in the fading leather album.

World War One:
you took a boat of passage,
spent three weeks in steerage
to arrive at Ellis Island.
Deloused and shorn
of given name,
you proclaimed your right
to conquer America.

Shulamith Chernoff is an Associate Professor Emeritus of Education at Southern Connecticut State University. She holds graduate degrees from Columbia University and the Teacher’s Institute of the Jewish Theological Seminary. Her poetry has appeared in Caduceus, Connecticut Review, and Louisiana Literature. Her second collection, Solace, is forthcoming from Five Oaks Press in 2017.

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