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Rochelle Jewel Shapiro


I never told you my grandmother’s stories
of the pogroms, how she and her surviving children
had to hide in the Black Forest, hearing the barks,
the panting of Cossack dogs, or how they ate roots
and berries, sucked on stones to stave off hunger.

Reading Grimm I omitted the lines
where one wicked stepsister sliced off her toe,
the other her heel, to fit the glass slipper.

Now when you take your own children
to the diner for Sunday morning quarter-sized pancakes,
as they stick their tongues into the butter pats and lick
syrup off their fingers, on the jumbo wall-mounted TV
they see children crouching in bombed-out
stairwells in Aleppo, a replayed loop of a black man shot
by a cop, a cop shot by an assassin.

Nights, tucked beneath Spiderman and Little Mermaid
quilts, when they will dream the stories
of my grandmother’s children,
what lullaby will you sing to them?


When that blue, impossibly bright, opens in a mountain of gray cloud,
and a gull flies sideways across it, the dark tilt is a sign—pay attention
to this glimpse of heaven. As you watch, light whitens the clouds’ smoky
edges. You’re sure if you could somehow get a better look,
you’d find your dead parents—mouths open as if
still surprised as hell that they have morphed into angels.

Will they recognize you now that you’re past the age
of each of them when they died? Or is it just a vague knowing
that yes, that is my third child. Another daughter.
Would they know your age now without having to count
eight years up from when your brother was born? Will
your mother throw you a Tangee Red lipstick air kiss?
Or will she tell you what a stinker your father is, citing
instances that go back to the forty-five years of their marriage?
Will she recount how her own mother favored her little brother?

Will they wish they had a do over? Would your father
still work in his grocery six days a week and half a day
on Sunday, the smoke of the Lucky Strike that dangled
from his lips winding upward making his right eye squint?
Or would he beam at you in the auditorium as you received
an award for art? For French fluency? Would your mother
still pick a fight with you just before your wedding? Just before
you left for your first trip to Europe? Just as you came home?

Maybe, like so many others who overlooked
their children, their eyes will glitter if they peer down
at their grandchildren. There are five of them now—ages
two through twelve. Do you see them?

Mom, will you reach out with Jergens Lotion hands
to bless them? Dad, will you take off your gray felt hat,
hold it to your heart, bowing to give thanks for them?

It is never too late to bestow what you couldn’t on earth. Attention,
that magical opening, the rent in the clouds.

➥ Bio