MY GRANDFATHER SHAKES ME AWAKE
My grandfather’s neighbor, Maxie raises his glass of ginger ale:
“Next year Jerusalem.” Grandpa purses thick lips. “Folly.
A Jewish ghetto in the desert.”
My grandmother sighs. Roast chicken cold on the platter.
Matzo ball soup barely touched. Every New Year’s Eve
the same fight.
I wriggle in my chair. A week ago, two smiling Israelis
in work shirts and jeans dug up the fully grown lemon tree
in my mother’s backyard. They said my tree would grow
next to bananas and mangos. They wrapped the tree’s roots
and California soil in a burlap bag. I pictured myself sturdy
in shorts, living in a kibbutz, feeding goats, hoeing soil.
Sabra sounded so romantic. Never mind it meant prickly pear.
Never mind I was allergic to desert air.
“Maxie, you have a house, a business, a garden.” Grandpa, plump,
his arms strong from his daily swim, leans back in his chair.
“Assimilate and you’re safe.”
“Safe.” Maxie rubs his balding head. “German Jews were assimilated.”
Grandpa winces at Maxie’s accent, secretly calls him “The Little Yiddle.”
“My cousins butchered in Auchswitz. And you?” Maxie turns to Grandpa.
“The pogroms. No picnic.”
Every New Year’s Eve Grandpa tells us about Cossacks on horsebacks.
Soldiers with fur hats, red uniforms, burning houses, killing Jews. Tonight
he says, “Now we’re soldiers, killers, destroying homes, olive groves.”
The mantle clock chimes the hour. I fall asleep in the add on room
in percale sheets Grandma bought for me.
The two Israelis, one driving a tractor, the other a bulldozer aren’t smiling.
Even in moonlight I can see furrows in their foreheads. Big wheels
rumble closer. Gray limbs and branches of my lemon tree in the tractor’s teeth.
Grandpa, his big hands on my shoulder, shakes me awake.
Penny Perry has been widely published as a poet, most recently in Lilith and the San Diego Poetry Annual. Her fiction has appeared in Redbook and California Quarterly. She was the first woman admitted to The American Film Institute screenwriting program, and a film based on her script, A Berkeley Christmas,aired on PBS.
A three-time Pushcart Prize nominee in both fiction and poetry, she was born and raised in Santa Monica, the setting for her first collection of poetry,Santa Monica Disposal & Salvage (Garden Oak Press, 2012), available at Amazon via CreateSpace.