My Father Tells Us about Leaving Vilnius

BY LYN LIFSHIN


On the night we left Vilnius, I had to bring goats
next door in the moon. Since I was not the youngest, I
couldn’t wait pressed under a shawl of coarse cotton
close to Mama’s breast as she whispered, “Hurry,” in Yiddish.
Her ankles were swollen from ten babies. Though she was
only thirty, her waist was thick, her lank hair hung in

strings under the babushka she swore she would burn
in New York City. She dreamed others pointed and snickered
near the tenement, that a neighbor borrowed the only bowl
she brought that was her mother’s and broke it. That night,
every move had to be secret. In rooms with no heat,
no one put on muddy shoes or talked. It was forbidden to leave,

a law we broke like the skin of ice on pails of milk. Years from
then, a daughter would write that I didn’t have a word for
America yet, that night of a new moon. Mother pressed my
brother to her, warned everyone even the babies must not make
a sound. Frozen branches creaked. I shivered at men with
guns near straw roofs on fire. It took our old samovar

every coin to bribe someone to take us to the train. “Pretend to be
sleeping,” father whispered, as the conductor moved near. Mother
stuffed cotton in the baby’s mouth. She held the mortar and
pestle wrapped in my quilt of feathers closer, told me I would
sleep in this soft blue in the years ahead. But that night, I
was knocked sideways into ribs of the boat, so seasick I
couldn’t swallow the orange someone threw from an upstairs
bunk, though it was bright as sun and smelled of a new country I
could only imagine, though never how my mother would become
a stranger to herself there, forget why we risked dogs and guns to come.


The 2015 Charter Oak Award
FIRST PLACE WINNER

We are pleased to announce the first place winner for The 2015 Charter Oak Award for Best Historical, honoring the independent press’ best writing on historical topics. The winner is selected by an external panel that judges all pieces blindly and selects the full list of finalists. Alternating Current does not determine the final outcome for the judging; the external judges’ decisions are final. The first place winner receives a printed certificate, an honorarium, publication on Alternating Current’s award page, publication on The Coil, printed publication in the literary journal Footnote #1 with the selection indicated, two complimentary copies of the journal, and our virtual medallion created by the lovely folks at Hardly Square, for personal and professional use on the author’s websites, blogs, and book covers.


LYN LIFSHIN has published over 130 books and chapbooks, including three from Black Sparrow Press: Cold Comfort, Before It’s Light, and Another Woman Who Looks Like Me. Recent books include: A Girl Goes into the Woods (NYQ Books), For the Roses, Secretariat: The Red Freak, Tangled as the Alphabet: The Istanbul Poems, The Miracle, Malala, The Marilyn Poems, and Moving through Stained Glass: the Maple Poems. Lyn was also the subject of a recent documentary, Lyn Lifshin: Not Made of Glass.

Poem originally published on 1/28/15