LANGSTON HUGHES TRIBUTE ISSUE
FINE CLOTHES TO THE JEW
for my mother
Fine, my mother would have said, about your work and
Clothes her mother mended and her father returned
To others for a bit of money. They were immigrant poor, not pawnbrokers
The Jews in your book. My mother worked in a laundry for a
Jew, Herman Wouk’s father, by the way, washing and ironing
Clothes for the senior Wouk’s customers at the Fox Square Laundry
To put herself through night school at Hunter College.
The truth—you must have met at a reading, both leftists who loved
Jew and African American—refusing to let poverty define you by
Fine line of separation, each of you determined
To hold on to the "American dream," if a bit deferred.
The year you published "Let America Be America Again," she
left the Bronx for the
Jewish husband who worked the oil fields of Texas. Packed the
Fine wedding suit she sewed herself and sat on the train in the same,
Clothes day after day reading your book.
The thirties weren’t easy for anyone—
Jew or African American—so many poor and hungry during the depression.
Fine time it was just to have a roof, food, and
Clothes on your back, a job
To go to like my father, the first
Jew hired by an oil company. A roustabout to
Fine tune the drilling in oil camps in west Texas. Work
Clothes greasy, dirty. Nothing but dust and sweat out there
To look forward to,
The depression and approaching war devouring everything else.
Fine thing you went off to Spain with a job,
Clothed as a reporter. Franco’s war with whispers (Lorca) of the
To come. And come it did until all
The pawnbrokers and six million other
Jews disappeared, my mother’s Fine Clothes to the Jew
left to me.
Davi Walders's poetry
and prose has appeared in more than 200 anthologies and journals. She
developed and directs the Vital Signs Writing Project at NIH in Bethesda,
MD. Her awards include grants from the National Endowment for the Humanities,
the Puffin Foundation, the Maryland Arts Commission, and the Luce Foundation,
and fellowships to the Ragdale Foundation, Blue Mountain Center, and
the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts.
in Volume 12, Number 1, Winter 2011.
read more by this author:
Walders: Whitman Issue
Davi Walders: Poets in Federal Government Issue