Bio Note: Although an Easterner by birth, I live in inland Southern California. I focus on poetry (my fifth book of poems, Groaning and Singing, came out this winter), but more occasionally write short fiction and creative nonfiction. If you feel like it, take a look at my most recent very short story, “The Paisley Scarf,” nominated for a Pushcart, in Loch Raven Review 16, No. 1 (2020). Or, at my most recent piece of creative nonfiction, “Operating in French,” Kaleidoscope, Number 84 (Winter/Spring 2022), 14-19.
My Long-Left Birth City
gleams in a movie, its lights gems on the plush display cloth of night, its bridges bracelets. Yet the shabbiness of a glimpsed street corner is what gets through, and mine reaches out from memory to me— a speaker of its native language— with this begrimed cornice, this lintel, this rain- and sun-mottled awning over the drugstore window, this black ash on the sill. As if, were I to rush there, I could hold in my hands their distilled atmosphere— the way someone holds, in the cup of her ear, a taped voice achingly familiar. As if every place we've ever called home does not flow away from us on an unlooped conveyer— like the waters of an infinity pool vanishing over the zero edge. As if I wanted to reach down on my chest for the key there six decades past, to unlock the square skates, tighten them against my sneakers, lean in and rumble over the cracked sidewalks flashing mica from the drugstore to the park, and glide on its paths and stop at another corner, newsstand, candy store, barber shop— utterly, beautifully, unremarkable.
Originally published in Bird Flying through the Banquet (FutureCycle Press, 2017)
—on finding my long dead mother's transit passport Here she is: plump in a high-sheen floral blouse in the stamped picture, traveling through Schweiz from Wien to Cherbourg, towards that never-discussed passage to New York. Haare: schwartz, wild as horses’ and as coarse, Augen: dunkel under the cloud of her adolescent brow, and glittery with angst I recognize. It’s as if she’s back from a past that had been masked by witness protection, from the then for which I have no other photo and so few of her words (I barely asked) — from what she was before naturalized my Mother, American Stella... Stella, why did you never tell me Sara was your given name? Or why my grandparents—gone before I was born—obtained Quota Immigration Visa No. 464, August 1, 1927? Broken windows? Cartoons with side-curls and long noses? Did your family blanch or scoff? Sara, did you sigh, relieved, or did you weep from fear and grief as the train wound past the peasant-postcard meadows, past Wagnerian gaps with alpen-rose and edelweiss- splashed high crags, and you left Vienna behind forever: the solemn facades and statues, the modest snug rooms across the canal from the Stephanskirche (so cold and grand), the neighbors who smiled the Jewish child in for Christmas cake? I will never know. Though I once saw the tiny circle of park near Zwei Ilgplatz (the address you never forgot)—its soil blackened with dog turds, splattered with greenly iridescent dog piss, so close to the frankincense and myrrh of the confectioner's window, the marzipan rabbits and the shining Easter eggs.
Originally published as “Immigrant History” in Jewish Women’s Literary Annual 9 (2013), 194.
©2022 Judy Kronenfeld
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