Sit in this café long enough
and everyone you know will walk by.
That’s what they say, anyway.
By what miracle did I shed the old life
the life of autistic hostility
and emerge, reborn, in a new place, a new time?
Of course, identity is identity:
you don’t get a new shin bone.
There are days I miss my childhood,
Eastern Europe transplanted to the United States.
My grandfather above all,
with his halo of white hair
and his black, plastic-framed magnifying glass
poring over the Yiddish newspapers.
Or reading the New York Times,
then telling me what Sulzberger had to say that day.
A whole world of learning
expired when he died.
He did tell me how it started, though:
a cheder in White Russia
where the rebbe smeared aleph and bet
on his slate, in honey, for him to lick off,
at age five.
It flowed into his veins
then into my mother’s
and here I sit,
120 years later and a million miles away,
writing poetry in this tiny café.