Medicine for my Great-Grandfather Made from the Lyrics of Bruce Springsteen
By Jeremy Radin
“Son, take a good look around / this is your hometown”
Drink this, piping hot, in one gulp from a teacup or else you’ll never be able to swallow again. Not after seeing your best friend’s head tumbling through the air – a shocked cork off a bottle of champagne, steam curling from the neck. You barely have time to register the horse the Cossack is riding away on – is it black or dappled? Painted like a dragon? No matter. His sword flashes, a smile in the sun. Drink this in. Let the medicine coat the inside of your neck. This is the dust of these roads, gouged by the wheels of milk carts, the boot prints of the rabbi (one clean mark and then the scar dug by the lame leg), the dirt that freezes slick in winter and you broke your arm running the bread home for your mother in almost the same spot your friend is lying now with blood pouring out of him like Sabbath wine from a tipped cup. Drink it in. Let it wake you as the snow veils him, as his parents fly from their ruined house, hands raised like soup bowls to the sky.
“Show a little faith, there’s magic in the night”
This, you should grind into a fine, fine powder and mix with a little water. Coat your face, arms, legs, hands, your sickle nose, your curly hair. Fold into the dark. Cure this plague of visibility. You are nothing now. Not Jew, not Lithuanian, not son or friend, just another mass of particles moving through the starlessness. Away from the fires lit against thatched roofs, granite men astride granite beasts with granite smoke crashing through their nostrils, those men with mustaches like rolled up flags and frozen gravestone teeth. Grab your sister and apply the mixture to her. Run and hide in the woods. Listen. The woman who taught you numbers, the boy who tripped you in the field and helped you get back up, the man who sings like the wind through the train tunnels, listen as they are given shovels, listen to the shovels worrying the dirt. The grave dug, friends lined up, rifles, shovels again, laughter.
“Windows are for cheaters / chimneys for the poor / oh, closets are for hangers / winners use the door”
Take this as a suppository. Direct access to the bottom of the spine. I know it is painful, even humiliating, but no one will know. All they will see is how noble and tall this young man walks as he makes his way into this country. Do not sneak in. Do not billow through the trees again, no. You are not yet a ghost. Enter this place as a polished boot through rusted hinges, let them sway behind you in the wind. Saunter down the streets, greet everyone with booming tekiah gadolahs, the curved shofars blasting through your chest. Say I have seen in a small shtetl in the span of nineteen years what this country has seen in almost five hundred. I have suffered and so I am now an American. They will listen. They will make a parade for you and a holiday of many-colored fire. They will carry you through blizzards of confetti and chandeliered ballrooms and blonde-haired women will close their eyes and imagine it is you they are dancing with, only do not come bowed into this place like a thief whose only crime is that he stole back his own life.
“Well everybody’s got a secret, Sonny / Something that they just can’t face / Some folks spend their whole lives trying to keep it / They carry it with them every step that they take // ‘Til some day they just cut it loose / cut it loose or let it drag ’em down”
Smoke this and your hands will stop shaking. Smoke this and you’ll sit no longer in the corner of the room as the children play with their cousins in the street. Smoke this and let it unfurl in your body, flowing over the knots of terror, loosening, loosening. You are here now. Smoke this and you will be here, just here, in the room across from your daughter who is asking you to tell her of the way it was, of how you got here, how she got here, how she is sitting beside her young brother in Chicago with more soup than she needs. Smoke this and tell her. Unravel into a river of stories. Do not let faith go the way of Yiddish. Survival is not a dead language. Smoke this and let your grandson get on the airplane. He will come back. Do not offer him the car if he stays, “Any car, I’ll buy you any car, just don’t get on that airplane!” Elter-Zeida, buy instead yourself a ticket. Smoke this and step out onto the tarmac. Soar back to that place you came from. Dig your deep hands into the soil and kiss your friends on their lips again.
“With these hands / With these hands / I pray for the strength, Lord / With these hands / With these hands / I pray for your love, Lord / With these hands / With these hands / I pray for the faith, Lord / With these hands / With these hands / I pray for the strength, Lord / Come on, rise up / Come on, rise up”
A shot injected directly to your heart. How long have you been resting now? I am writing safely in the house of your grandson. So safely on this manicured street. How I long to administer this shot to you myself, to dig you up and plunge L’Chaim through your breast. How quickly muscles and skin reassemble. Come & walk with me. Look what you have given us by being brave enough to run. To hide. To stay in the house though your legs were shouting “Grab a knife and chase the bastard down! Carry his head through the streets! Suck the blood from his eyes!” Thank you for staying in the kitchen. What you call cowardice let us now call two children, four grandchildren, seven great-grandchildren, and who knows what else? All this you have built with these hands you used to wring, waiting for Doom to trample in on his horse. He never came, Sam. I’ve been waiting too, and my father and your daughter. He’s not coming. The pogrom is over. Tulips have wrenched their bodies from the earth and the blood has washed away with the snow.
Jeremy Radin is a poet and actor living in Los Angeles. His work has appeared or is forthcoming in The Rattling Wall, decomP, The Rufous City Review and FreezeRay. His first book, Slow Dance with Sasquatch, is available from Write Bloody Publishing. You may have seen him get shot in the stomach during a liquor store robbery on It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia.