All I have of the last visit to Germany,
my father keen to show his New World bride,
is this photo: a sleek lad and his father
are sentinels; each man clutches a chair,
arms flexed to hold up beams of a falling house.
My mother bends to curb lank arms and legs
that trail generations of New York and Kansas.
Dad’s mother has a farmer’s mottled hands,
skin pleated by the sun. With set jaw, wordless,
she had begged them to stay; there would be peace.
The photo is stamped Danzig, city of change:
now Germany, now Poland, now between,
and that year what Dad called safe on first.
To Warsaw, his past, he dared not return.
My mother is younger than I am now.
She was always young. In Berlin she had guessed
people wore armbands with Vedic signs
to show that they were blind. In this split second
long fingers stroke her mother-in-law’s shoulder
as if to skim a lake. My mother stares
with her elder’s eyes at the camera lens.
Dad’s sisters, home from college, glance away.
One would be shot to death, another beaten.
But my mother is Ruth in a knitted suit,
who vows to a farmhand in a peasant blouse:
Whither thou goest I will go. Where thou diest . . .
Now on my lawn I cry: Don’t stay in Germany!
Come back on the last ship. Let me be born.