The only thing that survived

was the Spurzheim head
shipped out, to East London.
It had been swaddled
carefully by the gentile maid,
but so had everything else.
She carefully packed Bubbe’s furs
with tissue wrapped around every button,
Marjoram, koper, parsley stuffed into pockets.
A last breath of home
in the smudge of London’s docks.
Perhaps it was the blank eyes
like the mask of a Pharaoh
that put off the light-fingered bureaucrats.

Zayde was never sure why he kept the head.
It seemed like a crude way of thinking now,
only used by those ingrates
that subjected him to the indignity
of the metal measurements.
Still, the head’s classical pretentions
seemed to reassure his patients.
He supposed he would need it in the new practice
in London. He didn’t,
and so the head was the last thing to survive.

When Sarah is alone she calls the head grandfather,
and whispers stories in its cold
ears. Her mother settles Sarah between her knees,
feels the bumps of her young scalp.
She ignores the head, its firm black lines
speak of ghetto walls and train tracks.
Instead, she twisting together memory
and myth like a challah until the child sleeps.

When Sarah is grown she reads palms.
The dominant hand spits the future,
but the other is a passport of blood and flesh,
She strokes her fingers across the lines
of a map in a palm, stamped into being
with a mother’s kiss.

Rachel Simons is a Welsh writer and artist. She grew up near the sea but now uses Roath Park Lake to get her fix of water-watching. By day, she works in the voluntary sector with people who are homeless or vulnerably housed.

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