top of page


A little something more than ashes. What?

A sound? A syllable? A thread of light

on the anniversary of her death, yahrzeit?

A kaddish to stir up prayers of the dead?

A temple full of mourners? The soft tut-tut

when they notice a stark absence on my head? 


This isn't what she’d had in mind at all.

She’d given instructions, clear and precise,

re: details ‒ latitude, longitude, the size

of the lighthouse. Was all her talk in vain

if we should disregard her wishes, call

a rabbi, do what she least wanted? Feign 

ignorance, one might say; or, she’s no

longer here to make decisions for you.

Mourning is the deed of the living. True.

Touché, as she would say, her favorite word

along with “intertwingled”‒ portmanteau

of “intertwined” and “intermingled.” Herd 

mentality was not her way. She loved

cottage cheese on a crusty slice of toast

with Thousand Island dressing, or a roast

turkey sandwich dripping Miracle Whip.

Leftovers, leftovers, leftovers! she behooved.

The gospel of her kitchen was, “Eat up!” 

and nothing edible ever went to waste

if she could help it. The supermarket,

its infinite aisles like pews, demarcated

spiritual space. Her house of worship

stood proudly in a parking lot, its vast

smorgasbord of options a cruise ship 

for the soul, i.e. the appetite. Late 

in life she’d had a brief awakening 

to God ‒ though less potent than a bee-sting ‒

read Psalms of David, ‘listened’ to a voice

she said spoke, replied; syncretic substrate

deafening her with psychological noise. 

But ashes, ashes...we’d made great big plans

to scatter her bright powder to the waves

exactly as she’d always wished. Like thieves

we’d steal up the New England coast intent

on lessening our burden, in our hands

our mother’s earthly dust ‒ unsettled, scant ‒ 

filling two undistinguished plastic urns

the matter of the woman who bore us.

What would be the use of making a fuss

at this point? She left few friends and almost

no family. May you and I take turns

shouldering the guilt of this heavy ghost

loss upon loss upon loss upon loss 

in ritual proper to the species 

until its final moment of release 

into the painted ether of her dreams

where gull and guillemot and albatross

feed on the tender mollusks, the Supremes 

belt out “Reflections” for eternity 

and every day is Double-Coupon Day.

Here none of her defects are on display;

only the rough-hewn waves, the antic cries

of ospreys screeching praise, and charity

of wind to coax her atoms to the skies.

Surrounded by Fire 

My grandfather was an oxymoron—

an honest lawyer. To his wife of sixty years 

an utter failure. “You can’t pay the bills, Sy,

with noble principles,” she’d bark at him. 


His father had been an umbrella repairman

in turn-of-the-century Vilnius. Before the war

Vilna was a city of poets and mystics

“the Jerusalem of Lithuania,” though 

my papa never knew its glory days—

they sailed when he was only two years old. 

Need I mention why he never went back?

By the mid-’30s, Europe was goose-stepping 

uneasily towards fascism. My mother appeared

three months before the invasion of Poland, 

seven months after Kristallnacht. Yes, this

is how Jews measure time, in intervals 

between expulsions, massacres, invasions—

surrounded by fire, as Mandelstam wrote. 

She had the fortune to be born in Boston

not Vilna or her mother’s Polish shtetl 

whose days were numbered like eggs in a basket.


Lucy Dawidowicz sped to the airport

in a taxi—she later wrote of seeing Berlin 

decked out in its Third Reich regalia—

before the wolves could corner and devour her. 

She’d come to Vilna from New York City

as a student of Yiddish. She’d go on to write 

The War Against the Jews, a history 
of what she’d barely fled. She had been armed 

with foresight and a place to run home to

while Europe’s Jews were murdered or consumed 

by wildfires that burned millions upon millions

of umbrella repairmen, poets and mystics 

with no foresight, or just nowhere to go.

The very day Dawidowicz escaped 

a photo was snapped of my grandmother

on a porch in Vermont or Massachussetts 

forcing the brightest smile I’ve ever seen

her flash. The back of the photo is dated 

August 24, 1939 and it was developed

by Gerber Studios in Boston, where they lived. 

My great-grandparents are present as well

kvelling over the family’s newest arrival— 

my mother, Chana-Basha. But by the time

she was in first grade, her parents’ world

would be a graveyard—nothing would be left of

Vilna, Lida, or even great Berlin 

its military shows and death’s-head squads,

its psychopathic leader and his crowds 

whose fiery slurs incited Germany

to turn their eyes away as casually 

as a boy crushes ants with a bored thumb.

In six years, all of this would be erased 

as Chana-Basha sat in her bedroom

practicing her reading from a primer 

baffled by her parents’ constant anger.

She imagined, quite understandably, 

it was her fault. Little girls always do.

Marc Alan.jpg

Marc Alan Di Martino is a Pushcart-nominated poet, translator and author of the collection Unburial (Kelsay, 2019). His work appears in Baltimore Review, Rattle, Rust + Moth, Tinderbox, Valparaiso Poetry Review and many other journals and anthologies. His second collection, Still Life with City, will be published by Pski's Porch in 2021. He lives in Perugia, Italy.

bottom of page