At my great-grandfather’s hundredth birthday party

I missed the girl down the street’s
7th birthday party at the YMCA
to drive to New York & celebrate my
great-grandfather; old Jewish man,
a lingerie salesman – a miracle to me.

I was closer to the number zero &
he had just hit the century mark – it signifies.
My brother prepared a speech in the car to give:
historian in training, not quite sure which questions
were the right ones to ask of an artifact.

June in Tarrytown was humming
with the first breath of summer &
everyone told me how much I looked like
my father. Were all of these people my family?
I thought they had all died in Poland.

My great-grandfather, frame like a walnut tree,
pulled up in a car and stepped out with
cane and mustache & a rush of voices
assembled & began the old refrain,
for he’s a jolly good fellow, for he’s a jolly

My mother, bewildered, Cuban Jew, didn’t sing.
(She tells me years later she’s never really felt like an
American.) I met my great-grandfather for the first time
& he smiled and laughed & I wondered if he
thought I looked like his daughter – my namesake.

‘Marilyn’ isn’t really a name you give to
a girl living in the twenty-first century. Certainly,
it never marked me as Jewish to classmates,
merely it remained something to be joked about
& misspelled on Valentine’s Day cards.

The party slipped inside, upstream to a long table,
a dais of sorts for the family. My second cousin
gave me a disposable & and said to take pictures
of whatever I wanted. How to document everything,
so one day the act of remembrance would be easier?

In the act of recording the memory, I consolidate
& try to make sure these things are true.
Over ten years later, at lunch with my siblings,
I corroborate the facts & tease out everything;
this is a sort of postmemory in & of itself.

My sister folds her pizza in half
& says she remembers the car ride up.
My brother, now a grad student in history,
laments that he didn’t ask the right questions
before he passed away.

My great-grandfather lived to be 105 years old,
dying on the same day that my best friend
celebrated her bat mitzvah. (Facebook reminds me every year.)
Every subsequent visit to celebrate his birthday
was a recreation of his centenary, each time writ a little smaller.

Marilyn Schotland is a 20-year-old poet, currently studying History of Art and French Language at the University of Michigan. She is the co-founder and poetry editor of Bombus Press and her work has appeared in Sea Foam Mag and L’Éphémère Review. She likes peaches, Hieronymus Bosch paintings, and winter seascapes.

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