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Hand on the Glass

I’m one of the relatively lucky ones for whom lockdown is an opportunity to turn the mirror inwards. One person who I think about a lot is my grandfather who died of a stroke when I was three, but who I remember vividly. I think my mind is tied up in knots, knots comprised of all the half-remembered, half-truths that surround his mysterious life. He was a Jew in the Bukovina region, in a town that was in the Austro-Hungarian Empire, then Romania, and eventually the Ukraine, all in his lifetime. He left it in 1939, when it was still Romania, fleeing the coming apocalypse.

What confuses me is that he had a wife in Romania who did not come with him who died, presumably. The story is that she was quarantined with Typhoid or Tuberculosis, depending on who you ask in my family, and could not travel with him. That’s all we (think) we know. The story sounds implausible, and at the same time deeply sad. It got me to thinking about what their relationship might have been like, that their must have been estrangement as well as illness when he left for Trieste and she stayed behind.

I wrote this speculative poetry in the honour of this woman I do not know but feel somehow intimately connected to.

Hand on the Glass

I remember
your hand against the glass
I was trapped behind

I’m burning
but my room is cold
growing colder
I shiver beneath
the coat you left behind
cold and heavy
like your hand in mine
the last time we shuffled
along the boulevard
before the mobs
the glass
the fire

lips sewn shut by fear
I wanted to walk backwards
run
to the day before we met
when my fate was only
fate

we walked on
to the statue
saying nothing
you kept me half alive
in a half light
a gloom in which
i could see my face
barely
when the world was something
i could hold
grimly
like your hand

when you took your hand
from the glass
you finished what you started

years and years ago

I died
you lived on