January Poetry Blitz: Enid Dame

Brighton Beach

This is the end of Brooklyn, defiant and salty.
Houses are cracking, and pavement, and people’s faces.
Old man play chess on park benches. Gulls stalk the boardwalk.
In the backsteets, roses hang
scattering petals and perfume
after the rains.

The old socialists dislike the new arrivals from Russia,
who play video games and sell fish and clothes on the street.
They have come here to be capitalists.
The leftists are disappointed.
After all, they’re still waiting
(in pre-war, walk-up apartments)
for revolution to bloom.
They’ve kept the faith.

My mother is here on a visit. She moves on four wheels, slowly
feeling her way down the cracked, slanting street.
She doesn’t like this place:
the Russians are noisy,
the old ones pitiful.
The Midwest, she tells me, was different
even for Jews.

Under the El,
people buy food in four languages:
sausages, marblecake, chickens, gooseberry jam, parsnip roots,
knobbier than old fingers.
Here is a man with a number stitched on his arm.
The guilty Old World pays his rent.
He is still sane. He raises tomatoes and roses.
He asks if we know about Hitler. He says,
“They took away, now they give.”

Here is the ocean. It keeps on breathing,
sensuous, ragged. A cat on a bed,
reassuring. It has outlived
politics and religion.
It has outlived
so far.

I have come here, dragging my life in a suitcase.
Once it had cracked, like a New York sidewalk,
like a sea-eaten bungalow,
like the old vase my mother finds
in a second-hand shop.
“It’s still good,” she says. “You can use it.”

This a place of immigrants, radicals, exiles,
serious eaters and various gifts. I live here
a block from the sea and the second-hand shops. I come home
through salt-wrinkled streets
to a doorway
cluttered with roses.

By Enid Dame

(From Anything You Don’t See, West End Press. The late Enid Dame was married to Donald Lev.)

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