I shed skin—orange, brown, green.
Carrot, potato, apple.
The earth peels from my fingertips—blood, soil, breath.
Across centuries, we bring the same story to the table,
place it beside Elijah’s Cup, Miriam’s Cup, wine and water
spilling over pewter edges lit by candle flame.
My son wears sunglasses for the plague of darkness,
green for frogs, red stickers like boils over his skin,
the plagues he can reenact.
We dip our pinky fingers into glasses of red wine,
leave stains in the center of fine china to prevent forgetting,
the base of what we eat, touched by plague.
We open the door for the stranger
we once were, as we peer out for the Messiah,
the future, a welcome song we sing in quarantine.
We forcefully choose to remember the past.
Due to the pandemic, it seems more obvious now
to place horror on a plate next to survival.
My children are asking about forgiveness.
They fall asleep to folk stories
of our people’s poverty and perseverance.
Bone button borscht, the blind hamantaschen baker,
the mourning brothers gifting heaps of food,
the old deaf woman making latkes for the town.
As we read and wrestle the past,
why are we always so close to crying?
for my great-grandfather, Irving Kulwin
Like a cracked egg, he breaks each morning
from impossible rituals: kiss on the neck,
warmth of an unmade bed,
his wife’s scent—oil, lilac, pine—buried.
In the sunroom, rain streaks
the dirtied windows. Or sunlight rises
like a stage curtain
too bright over Irving’s pale, aging face.
Covered in the tallit he married under,
he argues through divine praise:
Yitgadal v’yitkadash sh’mei raba…
A battle, one ritual he keeps.
Leah Leah Leah
v’yit-hadar v’yitaleh v’yit-halal…
He recited the Mourner’s Kaddish,
a recurring headache, three times a day.
With wet lips, he whispers, searches
the heavy monotony for Leah’s voice,
her body a disappearing landscape.
His friends believe her ghost will enter
with the angels as he prays. Her shadow will form
a curve on the wall, her breath on his neck,
her hum in his ear. These things happen, they say.
And her scent will form in his nose and linger
in the laundry, her laugh will rise with steam in boiling water,
her reflection will appear next to his in mirrors
long after he removes the black sheets from the Shiva.
His daughters tiptoe around him.
They watch his mumbling agony, his ghostly reunion.
If they were younger, they might crawl under his tallit,
cling to his long legs, become part of the elegy.
Jamie Wendt is the author of the poetry collection Fruit of the Earth, which won the 2019 National Federation of Press Women Book Award in Poetry. Her poems, essays, and book reviews have been published in various literary journals and anthologies, including Feminine Rising, Lilith, Jet Fuel Review, Literary Mama, the Forward, Third Wednesday, Saranac Review, and others. She holds an MFA in Creative Writing from the University of Nebraska Omaha. She teaches English and lives in Chicago with her family. You can read more about her at jamiewendt.wordpress.com.