To My Great-Grandmother
Hattie Burton Harris (1865-1922)
You, whose first words are Yiddish,
who travels as a toddler from the Pale
across the ocean, grasping the fabric
of your mother’s skirt
as the swells make you both sick
for six long weeks that seem forever.
You, at 19, in the front parlor
of your parents’ house on Lafayette Street
surrounded by fluff and feathers
on the hats you and your sisters make
for the fancy women who seek your art.
You, in a long dress, dark hair a crown,
ushering the ladies in
and back out to waiting carriages,
discreetly taking their money
as long shadows make their way
across the overstuffed chairs
You, widowed for many years,
your grandson (my father) just five,
tell me–what rage causes you to
pick up the match,
rasp its sulfur head to flame,
set it against the hem of your dress?
or what terrible sorrow?
October in Hood River
Wooden bins filled with apples,
so many types of jam from the berry harvest–
we walk among the baskets of pumpkins,
shelves of honey, my sister and I,
awash in all this sweet sticky life,
captured in a photo that we will look at later,
noticing the squint in our eyes,
our hands around each other’s waist.
In the car, conversation
turns to our shared bits of genetic memory
hiding deep within flesh and blood.
For a moment, our mother and grandmother
sit with us, bones lighter than air
–we hold their papery hands,
feel the gentle press of their shoulders against ours.
This thing about history–that we are the
embodiment of our history–
we don’t know yet just how this will play out.
And would it change anything if we did?
Wouldn’t we still be here,
admiring the apples and pears,
the slant of golden light through the dancing trees?