poetry quarterly

10th anniversary

LANGSTON HUGHES TRIBUTE ISSUE

Davi Walders

 

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 like
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 Whitman—
Jew and African American—refusing to let poverty define you by the
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, hot
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 horror
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.

 

Published in Volume 12, Number 1, Winter 2011.

 

To read more by this author:
Davi Walders: Whitman Issue
Davi Walders: Poets in Federal Government Issue