the August bird on the hollyhock,
the one-eyed landlord,
the angels reposed between the cobblestones--
when we had everything and wanted nothing
except a ticket out.
What else would we have done, in the City of a Hundred Spires,
but sing as if every lamp post were a tall stem,
and we the warblers in diklos and babushkas,
hearts as tiny and strong as the astronomical clock?
"New York!" was all that fell from other lips in moments between notes,
though none of us had ever been.
Only you and I still loved the dumpling and the sugar cake.
In those days, we heard the horse hoof, the wagon wheel,
the ships with their deep bass calls that shook the docks.
And you, my double and my simple bloom,
the favorite soprano among us all,
loved to watch them, loving the motion they made,
while all the time staying stock-still,
holding your breath--and my hand.
I remember all my family's things wrapped in patterned cloth,
the Orthodox cross above our church when I saw it for the last time,
in early winter, with only sparrows on the steps, and no music.
My father had our ticket in his coat pocket
and my mother silent at his side.
For many years, in Chicago, we made pastries and pies
for strangers, and in time
all the children spoke English and sang only before ballgames,
eating hot dogs and forgetting.
They call me Ba-boo-shka, and smile.
"She never left the Old Country," they say, but how could I?
I once licked crumbs of sugar cake slowly from your soft lips
as you stayed still and the whole world shifted.
How could I ever love Chee-ca-go, having once, in warm summer,
loved you? Tell me that, little songbird.
babushka--a head scarf. Also, an old woman or grandmother.
diklo--a head scarf denoting a married woman
The City of a Hundred Spires--Prague
the poster--by Alphonse Mucha. It refers to the Moravian Teacher's Choir, 1911.
for Fireblossom Friday: That's the Ticket.