|Metzner family, circa 1921: Elsie, Bruno, Alfred, Sophie, Rudolf, Martha (left to right)|
A wind that could tear off shingles
whips over the ridge all night,
leaving a sky clean and blue as an Alpine lake.
The last few leaves cling low to the maple trees,
the newly bare tree tops scraping the sky.
The sound of an ax chopping wood comes up the hollow.
My uncle’s spirit is chopping wood, a chore that’s never done.
The ancient and everyday repetitions of labor-
splitting firewood, canning fruit,
patching clothes, knitting hats-
the ancestors nudge us, saying “listen to the wind!”,
reminding us to keep moving, prepare for winter.
No tender admonitions here!
Grossmutter comes flying over the trees in a vision,
braving vast expanses of the sea,
four children, one just a baby, wrapped in her skirts,
my father pushing out from her embrace
to gaze beyond the ship’s deck to the New World.
“Fly!”, she says to me. “What holds you back?
None of us know what that first step will bring.
It is your Grossmutter in the spirit world and I tell you-
the world changes shape with every step you take.
A russet maple leaf lets go, and spins out of sight.
She has thrown off her rose-colored apron
and put down her wooden spoon.
She is twenty-five, pin curled and all brand new,
eyes opened wide.
“Granddaughter, yes, go! With each step,
the world rearranges itself before you,
a Rubik’s Cube, a house of mirrors.
Take that step! As we live and breathe,
other souls live and breathe too,
and arrange their lives to respond to you.
Step into the dance! The music you call,
and the next, and the next under your gaze will fall.”
At this she spit-polishes her new red shoes,
steps on board the trolley car,
smiles wide at the driver,
and spins off into the skies.
October 28, 2009
Today I'm once more honoring my Tante Elsie, pictured above with my father Rudolf, uncle Alfred, aunt Martha and my grandparents, Sophie and Bruno, shortly before their arrival in America. This weekend Elsie is celebrating their arrival date, February 22, 1923, when the family arrived in New York City, reuniting with father Bruno and sister Martha who had come earlier to pave the way.
|My maternal grandmother, Louise Soldano (Nana), who appears in the second half of the poem!|
|Elsie today in her winter hat, at one hundred years old.|
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