Mizmor L'David Anthology 


Poetica Magazine
                                           Contemporary Jewish Writing

Todd Friedman is a retired NYC high school English teacher who is happy to be away from red pens and administrators. His poems have been published in Jewish Currents, Jewish Literary Journal, Midstream, Tikkun, Brooklyn Daily Eagleand English Journal.

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For Meyer Lipschitz: 1866-1895
Todd Friedman

Sweating and panicked, you and your brother

Bolt up the stairs two at a time, the flames

Racing up behind you, chasing you

From the second floor where you have your tailor shop.

The blaze comes shooting up from

The basement where a vat of wax

Has bubbled over in the candle factory.

Louis is an athlete and he twists

His body around the fifth-floor cornice

And drops to the roof of the adjoining building

Two stories below while the fire escapes

Fill up with men screaming for help.

A friend tries to restrain you while

The firemen set up their net,

But Louis is motioning wildly

And nothing can hold you back.

Just another Jewish immigrant

From Russia on the Lower East Side.

Just another tailor saving money

To bring his family across in steerage.

But you were my great grandfather’s brother.

I knew my great grandfather, and you might

Have been part of my childhood too.

Meanwhile, your wife was waiting in a shtetl

Near Minsk, hoping to come over within the year

With your three daughters, the youngest

Just six weeks old. You had never seen her.

I went looking for you, Meyer,

On Clinton Street off Delancey to see

If some part of you still lingered there.

The building had been gutted and rehabbed

And now there were apartments with parquet floors

And marble bathrooms where you and the others

Once labored. But the outside looked original

And I wondered if I was looking up

At your fire escape. I saw the squat building

Next door where Louis had landed

And I wished that someone could have told me more

Of his story. I couldn’t track anyone down.

But I found you in the Washington

Cemetery out in Brooklyn. The gravestones

Were all crowded together like the tenements

On the Lower East Side—it must have been

Easier to breathe when you first came out here.

Yours was just a small, white marker

Dwarfed by the massive stones around it.

I cleared away the tall weeds and kneeling down,

I put my arm around your headstone.

God knows how long you’d been alone.

Abraham and Isaac at the Family Therapist's Office
Todd Friedman

What was I supposed to do?

God came and put me to the test

It’s not like you have a choice

At a time like that

It’s true—

When my son asked me what we were

Going to do for the burnt offering

I misled him

How nice of my father to admit that

He misled me

This is the same man

Who argued with God before I was born;

What if there were 50, then 45, 40?

All the way down to 10

Bargaining with God

Not to wipe out the whole city

On account of a small number of innocent

Theoretical innocent, I must add

It’s not the same thing

And you know it

In the case that you’re talking about

It didn’t involve me personally

I just couldn’t see God acting so unjustly

Now in your case

God gave me an order

I don’t care

You argued for people you didn’t even know

To save a whole city just for a few

But for me you didn’t say one word

And you notice that Mom died right after

What you call a “case”?

Please don’t bring your mother into this

She was already an old woman when she gave birth to you

It was a miracle that you were even born

And that was why she laughed in the first place

Dad, are you telling me something that I don’t know?

You don’t want to face the simple truth

You put a knife to my throat

And then you expect me to act like it never happened

Look, if I could do it all over again—

Don’t give me that!

You don’t get a do-over here

The whole world thinks you’re some kind of saint

Because you checked your mind

Before we went up the mountain

Gentleman, I’m afraid that we’re going to have to

Bring things to a close now as we’ve run out of time

I actually think that this was a very productive session

As you both got a lot of things off your chests

And it’s good that you’re talking to one another again

I’ll see you at the same time next week

Until then, take it easy