Poem | A Little Girl’s 1930s Dirge

By | Nov 11, 2019

“Turn off your lights!
Turn them off!
Heh heh heh,” the radio coughs.
The Olga Coal Company presents
“The Hermit’s Cave”
With the Mummers
In The Little Theater of the Air.

Hugging myself on the stair,
In the licorice dark,
I wonder where my parents are.
“We have lost our place,”
Mummy says. “Thank God
My sister is willing to share.”
Lost our place?
That means books
When a finger
Slips off a word.

I saw a mummer once
At the Jackson County Fair.
Bandages flying everywhere.
Such a boo boo!
His mummy must have
Wrapped him head to toe
While he cried,
“Ow ow ow!”
“Heh heh heh,” the Hermit

I know my numbers.
My Aunty is eight
And we are three.
Two hands plus one finger over.
“Mummy, Mummy,” I call,
Crossing my arms to warm me.
“Why do my cousins think
The radio is fun?”

My daddy says,
“This is a hard time.”
The radio winks a little
Red eye and answers,
“Now I’m done.
Brother, can you spare a dime?”

Our old Zayde says, “Don’t forget
You are Jews in a Goyische city.”
Mummy says on the telephone,
“We know who we are;
We don’t want your pity.”

Now my eyes can see.
My cousins are black
Coal piles in their chairs.
“Heh heh heh,”
The Hermit laughs,
And I get chills.

When my mummy
Looks into a pram, she says,
“What an ugly baby!
Why tell the Angel of Death
About a pretty baby?”
When someone calls me pretty,
I’m afraid the Angel of Death
Will get me.

Daddy took me back
To the Jackson County Fair.
I looked for the mummer
Crying “Ow ow ow,”
But he wasn’t there.

Daddy bought me popcorn,
Yellow seeds changing
To snowy white flowers.
I eat the flowers one by one
From a little white sack,
Salt and butter on my fingers.
Daddy calls it a “snack.”

Thunder booms and lightning
Lights up Aunty’s rooms.
Mummy does not like storms.
She may be in bed to hide.
If she sat beside me
On the stairs, I would say
“Mummy, it’s okay.”

If I could find my way
To Aunty’s kitchen
For a knife, I could poke
A hole through the roof
To God and the stars,
But I have lost my way,
Too afraid for wishes
And too scared to pray.

Renowned fiction writer and essayist Faye Moskowitz is Moment’s longtime poetry editor. Her works include the short story collection Whoever Finds This: I Love You and the memoirs And the Bridge Is Love, A Leak in the Heart and Peace in the House. She was also the editor of Her Face in the Mirror: Jewish Women on Mothers and Daughters. Sadly for Moment, Faye will be retiring as poetry editor with this issue.

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