Bread of Affliction
At Passover, father breaks the middle matzo,
palms it with egg-shell reverence, wraps it
in brocade for hiding. Mother gazes at a photo
of Uncle Zvi on the mantle. Goose-down curls
float on Zvi's cheeks, eyes roam decades
to find us. I watch father's broad back leave
the room, listen for his tread on stairs, any clue
that might reveal matzo's unleavened presence.
Tonight, concealment means promise of a shiny
silver dollar for the son who finds treasure. Zvi's
pupils burn black as the oven soot of Katowicz,
a time when hiding meant thunder of SS jackboots,
raining glass, yellow badges, confiscation of
wedding bands and teeth. A night of dying stars,
when mother hid Zvi in the latrine. Sank to his eyes
like a river rat until the commandant with a finger
twitch, snuffed out his light. Mother explores faded
numbers on her arm, pulpy tip of her digit moving
like a roulette ball, pausing on 8, as if my lucky
number might erase these brands, as if the mystical
number for life might lift Zvi from the photograph.
Tonight, we recline on pillows, eat horseradish
sandwiched between flat bread, devour potato kugel
and brisket, quaff cup after cup of Manischewitz wine.
After the last benediction, I streak from the table in
frenzied pursuit of the aphikomen. Tell-tale crumbs
between Beethoven sonatas, reveal the hiding place.
The treasure is not silver, but something to balance
gently on a tongue, savoring the weight of freedom.
Something to lay like pebbles at Zvi's altar, memory,
immutable as the spark that kindled his soul.
Copyright 1995, Arthur Ginsberg
Arthur Ginsberg is a Seattle neurologist and the author of a volume of poetry titled
Walking the Panther (Northwood Press, 1984). His writing has been
published in several journals including Arnazella, Beacon Review, Spindrift,
Embers, and Prickly Pear.