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My Grandfather Changes His Last Name

At the Grand Canyon Red Rock Motel
he signs the register. The shiny Buick out front
my grandmother holding the picnic basket
boiled chicken, she glances at the paper,
the familiar handwriting, the blue ink.
“Mr. and Mrs. Taylor! Am I some floozie?
You have to write a different name? Taylor?”
She tells the clerk, “We are married forty years.”
Grandpa says nothing, steps out for the valise.
Polished shoes, a tuft of thin blond hair
slicked back under the Panama hat,
his purple shirt looks like an orchid
in the Arizona heat.

In the hot motel room, they sit on twin beds.
Whir of the fan the only sound. She unpins
her long hair. “One of your practical jokes?”
My grandfather, the lawyer, says,
“Taylor is now our legal name.”
She sighs, thinking about engraved flatware,
cloth napkins, tea towels, the Hs she sewed
on percale sheets and pillowcases.
“I’ve been Mrs. Herman since I was a girl.
What about your brothers and sister?
Who goes and changes his own family name?”
His jacket and tie still on, he sits stiffly.
She is already down to her pink corset.

”Meshugener,” she mutters.
She has never called him a name
directly before. Plenty, “Blitz Krieg,”
“the dictator,” out of his hearing.
He opens the paper he bought in Kingman,
Senator Joe McCarthy with his wide forehead
and dark eyebrows glares at him in black and white.
She studies her husband as if he were a rare
eggshell brocade she has never seen before.
The bump on his head, a wound from a rock
thrown by a Jew-hating soldier in Russia years ago
shines in the dim motel light.

Her husband taught himself English while driving a bus,
the book in his lap, eye on the road,
how proud he was to follow Teddy Roosevelt
up San Juan Hill, how he always stopped to salute
the statue of the soldier at the Veterans Cemetery.
He loves this country that gave him his freedom.

Sweat, which he calls perspiration, dripping
down his neck he sat bent all summer
over the McCarthy hearings
as if he were sitting shiva.

“Meshugener,” she whispers again.
“You think the fat Senator is after you.”
She frees a chicken leg from its wax paper
and hands it to my grandfather,
his hat still on his lap.