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Poetry: Bubbeh in Shul

in a cream colored Chanel suit
she got at Loehmann’s
licks a crooked finger
turns a slim page
in a prayer book
with a busted binding.
I never knew her more
still than she was in temple
no one, not even God
calling her name. At home
she watched Days of Our Lives
while ironing my grandfather’s
cotton shirts, yelled at him to change
his hat, collected and disbursed family news
like a regular beat reporter. That was
when kitchens were
small and linoleumed.
Beets were grated
the borscht prepared
from scratch and the only place
my grandmother ever relaxed
was in a metal folding chair
in a tiny synagogue behind
a blackout curtain where
the cantor’s voice reached her
from the men’s section
only as a hum.
Poetry Editor Alicia Ostriker comments:This poem feels like a thumbnail sketch, with instant- recognition details, of an entire life. And at the neat surprise ending—should we feel pity for this grand- mother, cut off from the men’s piety? Or should we feel happy for her, relaxing with her own?