Near the Atlantic Ocean, past the last subway station,
Streaks of sand on the sidewalk,
Armies of aging Jews soaking up sun
As if it were Talmud,
And the rickety white stairs
To an apartment like a frail body.
My uncle and aunt were both warty, like alligators.
They set a lunch on the oilcloth-covered table.
I felt peculiar about the smells.
The lunch seemed to go on all afternoon,
Anxious syllables floating over my head like fireflies.
Shayne maydel was me.
Eat, they said in English, eat.
So I ate, and finally reached the pastoral scene,
Bo Peep, pink roses, green leaves
At the dish bottom,
One of those sweet, impossible memories
Jews used to buy themselves in America.
The two of them beamed,
Gold-toothed, as if their exile were canceled.
You should eat and be healthy, they said.
From “The Book of Life: Selected Jewish Poems 1979-2011” (University of Pittsburgh Press, 2012). Reprinted by permission of the author. Alicia Ostriker has published 14 volumes of poetry. She received the National Jewish Book Award for Poetry in 2010 and has appeared in numerous Jewish literary journals and anthologies.