MY COUSIN JOE

In memory of my cousin, Joe Sholkin

Eye pressed firmly against
           a keyhole to the past, I see
my Cousin Joe, so handsome, so smooth,          
      leading us into a Chinese restaurant,
somewhere in Boston. It is 1953,
     and he seems to know the waiter well.

Many appetizers are brought to the table,
           more than I've ever seen, as he jousts
with my plain-spoken grandmother,
     his most singular Aunt Sonny. Yiddish kibbitzes,
            served up fresh and razor-sharp, fly over the
eggrolls, as my Cousin Joe laughs, and gently proceeds
          to charm the one woman on this planet
immune to all forms of charm
                ... except his.

The next day, it was on to sky-high sandwiches
            at Jack & Marion's in Coolidge Corner,
     and I remember the little green trolley, and how
clean the streets were, and my heart
           beating faster at the Boston Massacre site,
  great shrine of my imagination,
       and looked with pride and envy at my Boston cousins
who owned their own homes, not like
   in the Bronx, and who spoke
       in a way we might have had we lived in America
a few hundred years more.  And I cherished
            even my souvenir drink stirrers from
    Beacon Plastics.  
 
The years passed. Occasional phone calls to my
       mother. In the mail, postmarked "Boston,"  
innumerable copies of letters to battered editors, meaning
           my Cousin Joe was at it again, sticking it to all forms
of hypocrisy, foreign or domestic. "Don't ever talk to your
  Cousin Joe about religion," my mother warned, and
       I knew he was for real, and asked her again and again
to explain his atheism, and so
            learned the meaning of principle.

Moving to Brookline decades later, I saw him again.
             More letters. The Community Church.
Nicaragua and its orphans. My Cousin Joe,
       my Boston cousin, this capitalist who hated
    capitalism,
beloved of his Aunt Sonny, still
    fighting his fight, and still standing for
something, refusing to abide injustice,
        and happy, as always,
              to pass the eggrolls.


December 23, 1997




 

All written material © Bill Schechter, 2016
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