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Live Embers: Ars Poetica


There are lands that hold no memory; this is not one of them.  Sometimes, it’s as though memory crowds out the living in a place where lovers of live ember sleepwalk into liquid crystal night.  In our armful of suburbia, these eyes witnessed horrors briefly mentioned in history textbooks we read at school.  Here, everyone and their grandmother was a refugee.  Here, the crystal-shrapneled fingernails of my sleeping brother never wash away to sea.


Here, the speed limit on Keating is 25 mph.


Everyone I know is a Marxist atheist.


Chess pieces line the windowsill, standing at attention.


No one goes to the mall.


The inhabitants are all passing through.  They live here for a few years, get on their feet, get U.S. citizenship, and find greener pastures.


We of the first-generation never get it right.


The golden-brown bricks of apartment buildings shine from the rain like glazed challah.


I, too, have left, but this place cannot leave me.


Next door, the male half of an old couple didn’t make it through the night. 


The mall is never empty, because affluent North Shore folks drive down to be patrons.  We can’t afford days off.


We have the largest library on the North Side.


I cry for you, brother, but be strong.  Be strong.


Places of worship are spaced every twenty paces.  It’s been years since I’ve entered one.


How did we ever pull through?


I have not touched my violin since the sixth grade.


Near the cemetery, the speed limit is 40 mph.  My best friend got a speeding ticket here.


The nursing home faces the cemetery across the street.


Jars of kimchee line the windowsill.


You had to hide in an attic, too?


My Chinese grandmother is making borscht again.


Uneaten mooncakes line the window sill.


Everyone is some kind of engineer.


There are only a handful of Chinese families, and they are almost all from Shanghai.


I have been waiting for my green card for most of my life.  We will tell this to our grandchildren.


We have the best chess team in the country. 


I’m not good enough to be on the chess team; I’m just here to hang out with good-looking Russian boys.


Ki ata hayelad hachi yafe ba’gan.  Because you are the most beautiful boy in kindergarten.


I’m too ill to play, but a good-natured old man stops reading to make me laugh.


He used to be a teacher.


How did we ever manage to pull through?


Only the first generation can understand.  Maybe we won’t tell our grandchildren, but


remember.  Gam ani ohevet otcha.


And the nishma of these assumptions somehow made writing poetry a necessity.  Because everyone else has moved on.  Except us.


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