My Grandmothers Came from the Ukraine

19 Dec

There seems to be quite a bit of traffic on my blog in the past few days. Much of it from Tel Aviv, a city I have never been to in a country I have never seen.

But I do have relatives there – relatives I see seldom, speak not much to and, most of whom, would not recognise.


People tend to believe everything they read. Oh, they say they don’t, but they do. In newspapers, in books, in pamphlets, on the Internet. Especially on the Internet where it is easy to publish anything one wishes. And if it comes by email, all the more believable.

If it comes in an email, it makes no difference what the story, it is swallowed whole. Hoax, myth, legend – all true if it is found within your electronic inbox. And each time it arrives, it is true again.

Literature is true. Ask nearly anyone who reads a poem. They’ll tell you all poetry is autobiography as though no poet ever made up a thing, created a work of fiction, embellished, took license with a core of truth to make a whole that speaks the truth but did not necessarily happen. At least not how it was written.

My daughter complained about my last book. Not enough poems about her. Only two. In truth, there is only one. In truth, there are none.

My son complained there is more about his sister than about him. I told him there were exactly the same number of poems about him as her. Not one fewer.

I wrote a poem for a coffee company once. Skookum. About a man who is thinking of higher climes and better times as his wife of leisure rambles on and on. His coffee saves him. Once published, people thought my marriage was in trouble. I rarely drink coffee.

And so, the poem below is true. True for many and truer for some and but it isn’t real. Parts are real, parts are made up but the whole creates its own truth from the parts that are not.

So it is about me, but it isn’t.

Except for the last line. The last few lines. Those, you can take to the bank.


My grandmothers came from the Ukraine.
Each one
Pushed, pushed
By swelling Cossack waves,
Night pogroms, burning homes and hoof-print graveyards.
Scattered, scattered.
One to Vienna, the other, Buenos Aires, Boston.

My grandmother in Vienna met my grandfather
And became my father’s parents,
Pushed, pushed
By the waves of Hitler’s Reich
In the Holy war against the Jews, Gypsies, Whathaveyou.
Galacia, Gdansk, London, New York, Israel, Florida.
Scattered, scattered.

My grandfather removed himself from Lisbon
At the Catholic’s strong suggestion
And ended up in Amsterdam, London, Buenos Aires,

And I am Boston, New Jersey, South Carolina,
New Mexico, North Carolina, Minneapolis, Seattle and Canada.
Israel, England, Germany, Philadelphia, Florida.
And in no place do I belong,
Each place I needed to move from,
Pushed, pushed-
Economics, education,
culture bade me leave,

Browning pastures left for green and I
Unhappy in the next as the last
Moved on again, unattached
Unrooted, uncommitted and still,
In the back of my mind I’m planning where next,
Wherever I am inferior to where I might be.
I’m sure it will be better.
Scattered, scattered.

Yom HaShoah.
Day of Remembrance.
It should be enough to remember,
But it blows through my hollow bones
Like a winter bird in flight,
I scatter like a dried dandelion.
A personal Diaspora,
I shatter like crystal, dispersing light.

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Posted by on December 19, 2007 in Culture, Family, History, Poetry, Religion


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