"Don't be frightened, don't be frightened when I die.
We are all born to be lost.
I'm eighty years.
--July 27, 1971
I am frightened, Grandmother,
of your death, of my life.
I am lost already, obsessed,
walking late-night floors
in circles of Revolution, trying
somehow to find the key.
The orbit of my life constricting,
like my throat, retching
at crimes so enormous, so cynical
they mock description, and our sanity.
I needed you, Grandma, I need you now,
to tell me again of my people, of how it was
in the Pale, in Poltava that night
of broken windows and Black Hundreds
when we were hunted like dogs, when
your sister Esther disappeared
over the Cossack's horse,
in the screams and confusion.
That night remains with us still.
Tell us again, Bubba,
of the early years, of the immigrant
dream which was really a nightmare
of leaving a mother and language behind.
Tell us again of the boatride and Ellis Island,
of the rented rooms, stretching
like a chain of misery from Boston to the Bronx.
Tell us again of how you met the good woodworker
after years of wandering without a home
and a lifetime without a country.
Yes, tell us again, Grandma,
of how it was in the early days
when one needed to be like iron
just to survive.
I see you again,
that face with lines so fine,
an engraving etched with suffering
and the beauty of resistance.
Yours was a wisdom without reflection,
sometimes cruel but usually on the mark,
ground from the bones of ancestors
unmet and unknown.
And what was the secret in our blood
that pushed you in the sweat of your brains
to practice your reading
on month-old newspapers,
in your 70th year, with eyes grown tired
from looking on the world.
So leave us, Grandma,
your strength, your abhorrence of sham,
that courage to spit in the face of authority.
leave us that flinty, unquestioning, uncompromising
will to resist
We sing today of the immigrant woman,
of Sarah, my Grandmother,
who brought us here.
We honor her,
a simple woman who lived a hard life well,
and who sleeps now.
It was enough.