This poem appears in Tiferet print issue 19 from 2011. Click here to purchase the full issue in kindle format.
for my grandchildren
I’d like to tell you all that you come from a long line of singers but in our family the thread we can touch stretches back only to your great-grandmother, my mother, unlike others’ lines that reach to the Revolution and beyond, perhaps to earls and kings.
I’d like to tell you that lullabies I sang as I rocked you in your special room upstairs ring with generations of natal voices that came before us but the only tunes she bequeathed to me remain Dirty Lil, about a rancid girl who never took a bath, and a ditty about a cow atop the Alps, opening and closing its sphincter. My mother used the naughty term when she sang it in German, the language that marked her first seven years, the language that peppered her Yiddish when she spoke with her sisters.
She’d hit the notes in a voice husky from the Chesterfields she puffed, Americanized from the life she led after her parents brought her here, but flawless German took her back to the Saxon town—I was born in Plauen, near Leipzig—where she played in streets that were safe, where she prayed in safety.
I’d like to tell you how she played and prayed but she didn’t share much of her life food, the seasoning that spiced her secret juices though she let that cow tune escape, and my girls sang it though they didn’t know what they said.
And she laughed. And I laughed.
I’d like to tell you more so you won’t forget
to sing my song.
GAIL FISHMAN GERWIN grew up in Paterson, NJ, and earned her A.B. from Goucher College and M.A. from NYU. She has written, published, and arranged readings for several plays, including Bella’s Family, based on a Jewish immigrant family, and her poetry, book reviews, fiction, essays, and journalistic features are widely published in literary journals, newspapers, and magazines. She also leads poetry workshops. In 1984 she founded inedit, a Morristown, NJ, freelance writing/editing firm. Her poetic memoir Sugar and Sand was a 2010 Paterson Poetry Prize finalist and her poems earned five consecutive Allen Ginsberg Poetry Awards honorable mentions.
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