In meals at Emma's, only children
and grandchildren rated given names.
In-laws owned a separate nomenclature.
Abuse was served in equal portions
with beef brisket and bloodied purple beets.
Aunt Ellen was "the Greek."
Aunt Rosalie was "the Blonde."
German Uncle Dick was "that Dutchman."
And my gentle father was "Hitler."
If Rosalie asked for dinner rolls,
Emma would say, "Hitler took them,
to the Blonde he should pass."
It was more accusation
than table manners. Prisoners
of the failed detente called family,
we stared at shame reflected in the borscht
and ate fast. At least the food was good.
Sometimes Cousin Joyce would flip
her long dark hair over her face to block out
her mother's stricken wine-dark stare.
And I'd sneak glances at my dad
to catch, how in profile, he actually looked
the part. When I substituted my thumb
for a moustache, it was uncanny.
And fury rose in his eyes like film-clips
of Nuremberg speeches on The Twentieth Century
narrated by "the Cronkite." After ice cream
warmer than the atmosphere, he'd snatch me
for a long drive through the rubber stench
of eastern Akron till he was calm
enough to chafe out the rest of the visit.
Veteran of World War Two, comparison
with what he'd battled to destroy
doubled the insult. He'd shake his head,
"You know if Hitler had caught her before
she escaped, he would have shot himself sooner."
Number 89 / 2013