When cossacks torched the town,
one pulled Malka from her carriage,
moved to rip her apart until he recognized
the face of his neighbor in Malka’s mother;
he apologized, placed her in her mother’s
arms and scurried into the smoky night.
Her father had seen what was coming,
packed up his seven languages and sailed
to America. Soon the family joined him,
leaving behind the country that rejected them,
their culture, their faith. They left their land
of cypress and palm with its glittering
Black Sea, and landed in a larger world
of cypress and palm where sea was ocean,
the language an edifice to climb upon
and conquer; their religion expendable
at last, they were free in their new lives.
Now my grandfather could spread garlic
on his bread in peace, no one seemed to care
what their last name was and his sister Malka
was able to grow old and tell me, “Remember,
dear, the Bible was written by a bunch of men”
and no god came to strike her dead.
Tamara Madison is the author of the chapbook The Belly Remembers, and two full-length volumes of poetry, Wild Domestic and Moraine, all published by Pearl Editions. Her work has appeared in Chiron Review, Your Daily Poem, A Year of Being Here, Nerve Cowboy, the Writer’s Almanac and other publications. She is thrilled to have just retired from teaching English and French in a Los Angeles high school.