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Poetry

My grandfather moonlighted as a rabbi
on Friday evenings
when he should have been praying
in the Bronx one-room apartment
with no electricity and the claw-foot tub
used for distilling whisky—
not walking down 143rd Street
below the globed gaslights,
along the trolley tracks,
past shuttered tobacco shops
and Coca-Cola signage, towards Yonkers
and the old-age home,
my father’s shorn dark hair, a bent shadow
beside him carrying the heavy prayer books
and the silver-threaded
prayer shawls, his scuffed shoes barely keeping up
in the glare of the setting sun,
doing what God had forbidden:
work on the Sabbath. But as long as the boy
had not reached the age of thirteen,
his sins went uncounted,
so the grandfather took his own
and put them on his youngest son, a goat
for carrying, as if they were back in the old country,
driven from place to place,
the candlesticks and blackened crockery
clattering on the sheep-back of a boy,
whose burden, soon to be abandoned,
was his innocence.


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