An Exile’s Daughter

The afternoon before Shabbat,
in the time of preparation
I make dumplings with my Grandma.

I match her movements,
scoop the mixture into cupped palms,
set aside for balling later
and repeat.

While working she tell stories from before I was,
of the city’s bulb-spires painted red,
boats on the Moskva with banners flapping in the breeze,
cargo piled above and limpets stuck beneath,
waters running out to the Caspian sea.

She tells of the kitchen we owned back then,
great furnace roaring, bread baking,
meat bloody, dripping, fat spitting.

Outside my father gathers wood,
chops just enough to keep us warm
until he can lift a finger once more.

When I go to him he’s whistling
an unfamiliar tune;
when he sees me he stops
as though remembering himself.

In the evening we gather by firelight
to say Barch Ata Adonai
when my father speaks through gritted teeth,
hissing the words like a battle cry
I remember him earlier, sweat on his brow,
axe in hand, taking grip and bringing it
down.

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