Poetica Magazine

Poetica Magazine


by Charlene Fix

I believe there is a battle between/the kitchen table, bimah, and altar.

The kitchen table/that serves food to hungry strangers wins.

Stanley Moss, “The Table”

It’s old. It’s us. It’s everything, which is why

I cannot understand the current gastronomic

turning away. Braided challah lit by candle flame.

Yeast dough rising, breathing on the board.

Incarnations of bread, nuances, iterations.

And bread’s many noodle cousins!

These are my thoughts at a funeral mass

for the father of a student I taught twenty-five

years ago, and whom I may not recognize today

though we stayed in touch after he thanked me

by postal mail for ruining his chances for a lucrative career

by turning him on to writing. His father is a pathologist.

My son is a pathologist whose mother writes poems.

Life, you wag, you lover of irony.

From a pew at Saint Andrew’s, I am comparing

the synagogue’s Bimah whose Arc houses the Torah,

heavy bread for the soul, to something kindred here:

an altar with a cupboard holding a place setting

for the stupendously metaphorical small meal

served at Mass: cup, plate, tiny breads.

I watch the specifically baptized descend the slope

of the aisle to taste of it, some parting their lips

for the Priest to place the wafer on their tongues,

some taking it into their own hands first, thinking,

as they ascend—I’m speculating now—of daily bread,

of trespass and forgiveness, thorns, and the salt of tears,

even of ordinary things, like mass produced bread

that nevertheless infuses the distracted air

around the factory with its tantalizing aroma,

causing me to remember the boy I loved in second grade

mesmerizing our class with a tale of loaves,

his father a worker in the bread factory

who took this son to see how loaves are made,

then sent down chutes to be wrapped in paper.

My classmate’s arms are animated, his face lit as he shares

the wonder we hunger for, his friends, his strangers.

They Tell Me My Grandfather...
by Charlene Fix

What is hateful to you, do not do to your neighbor: that is the whole Torah; the rest is commentary. Rabbi Hillel, when asked to recite the Torah while standing on one foot.

They tell me my grandfather was arrested

for threatening a woman who was beating her child

on a street in Russia two century-turns ago.

He said if he saw her doing it again, he’d beat her.

Despite literary tradition there, the victim was not a horse.

In this way he launched the spanking prohibition in the family

that my mother, his daughter, carried on.

On yearly visits to her family in Winnipeg, mishpucha

called my sister and me the Katzenjammer kids.

My father, a confirmed non-spanker too, lost it

only once, taking off his belt to tenderize our bums,

but our mother stopped him, not unlike the way

my sister and I would thrust our little bodies between them

when they tried to dance. But that is another story.

They tell me my grandfather would sneak home

from the Russian army where he was a cook to sleep

with my grandmother, then creep back to his post,

the sun’s fingers tickling the sky pink. No wonder

she had thirteen pregnancies, nine live births. My grandfather

hated the Russian army that Jews had a long tradition

of walking away from, especially if they lacked talent

on the violin, the only known path to deferment.

Ultimately, he didn’t return to his post to stir the soup

but walked all the way to Winnipeg, secured a homestead,

sent for the wife and five extant kids. Quarantined in Liverpool

minus her still sea-faring trunk, my grandmother washed

their only clothes at night. One day she took them

sightseeing on a bus. That too is another story.

They tell me my grandfather, a religious Jew, “almost

a rabbi,” they say, gave Christmas presents to Aunt Jean,

the Italian girl from Cicero who married his son Meyer.

O.K., so my grandfather was a religious man who kept kosher,

went to shul, studied the Torah, the Talmud, and, I’m guessing,

the Kabballah too. More to the point, he was a scholar

of the human heart. He knew that in Winnipeg, far from Cicero,

Jean would feel homesick on Christmas. Having mastered

the art of reciting the Torah while standing on one foot,

he knew how to bend and sway. I like that my grandfather

gave Jean presents on Christmas. The God I believe in

also approves. And that is the story.