Below is text that may or may not be included in a new project titled Site. This work mines the history and mythology of my family history and traces the impact of loss and displacement over three generations. This is a beginning.
Mrs. Rose née Elia Braca died in her apartment some time in the winter of 2015. She was 98 or 99, a radio star of the 1930’s.
Her stage name was Lynne Howard. I knew her as a frail figure who walked the hallways for exercise. One time we found her sitting by the window in a smoke filled hallway. She said, “I turned the oven on for heat, as you do, and my nurse had left a chicken in there.” It was the middle of July.
They came and cleaned out her apartment. First her children, then the neighbors, then the professionals. This is what happens with death. People come and touch your things. They keep them or throw them in the fire. Why have things at all? Is your spirit held in these objects? When they are burned, buried or crushed, is your spirit released?
Who honors the spaces left by the dead? Mrs. Rose occupied a space. She filled it with her history and the history of her ancestors and the canvasses of her dead husband Herman. Elia Braca Rose, a Jewess who adopted a gentile name, as you do.
Drip drop drip drop drop drop drop
But there is no water
T.S Elliot, that cranky anti-Semite.
I lived in the apartment next to Mrs. Rose. Number 820H. I too have left. It stands empty. Probably gutted by now. They’ve knocked down the dry wall and pulled up the floors. My DNA and the DNA of the others who came before me sucked up in a shop vac.
Bleecker Street candy store. Sweaty bottles of Yoo-hoo, dusty baseball cards, ship wrecked floorboards.
Unreal city. I had not thought death had undone so many.
It’s recommended I go for a BRCA test. Variant of unknown significance. I look up Founder Effect, a loss of genetic variation, limited gene pool. Forced ghettoization = cellular trauma. Silence = Death.
Here, said she,
Is your card, the drowned Phoenician Sailor,
(Those are pearls that were his eyes. Look!)
Here is Belladonna, the Lady of the Rocks,
The lady of situations.
Here is the man with three staves, and here the Wheel,
And here is the one-eyed merchant, and this card,
Which is blank, is something he carries on his back,
Which I am forbidden to see. I do not find
The Hanged Man. Fear death by water.
I see crowds of people, walking round in a ring.
Drive in a blue car down or up a dusty red road. Horse pen. Pile of wood, and white bones, compost. Hay and dry weeds. Cactus.
They met in art school. Two runaways. Their marriage forbidden. Were garments torn? Prayers of mourning uttered?
I will show you fear in a handful of dust.
“Tell your mother to stop being so anxious”, my father says, jabbing his finger at the air. It’s a cold wind that blows straight from Winnipeg.
She went home for my birth. I say for the free hospital - but truth is less clear. They didn’t want to let her go.
“Your daughter was born with a wound”, says the astrologer. Chiron in the 8th House. Fear death by water. I see crowds of people, walking round in a ring.
“the witness is forced to testify
Dov Bear Davidoff, my great, great, grandfather lived in Kovno, Lithuania. The northern tip of the Pale. After conscription to the Russian army, his son, Abraham took the name of a dead man and became Dov Caplan. So it is said. History, fantasy - the jury is out. There’s a photo of him. Handsome, long dark coat, a cane rests between his legs, cap, payos and full beard, Slavic cheekbones. In front of a painted backdrop, his feet rest on dirt.
You know there were pogroms. I say this causally. Riots, massacres, mass graves, extermination.
Yitgadal v’yitkadash sh’mei raba.
They left for Liverpool, then Canada. $250 bought the passage. The women came later.
What would they have done differently if they had the choice?
My great grandfather owned a coat company, Stall & Sons. Winnipeg Manitoba. A garment district in the Canadian prairies. This is documented and part of the historical record. It began as a sweatshop
Here is no water but only rock.
My grandmother was tiny, under 5 feet. She grew up in Ozarow, Poland. Her family survived by hiding in the cellar. I remember she kept her food in paper bags wrapped with rubber bands. Chocolate was stored in drawers with the jewelry. Hidden but easily accessed in case quick flight was necessary. “I have no luck”, she would say, perched at the edge of her chair, in the kitchen by the phone. Ready to go.
How do we know if this history is real? “the witness is forced to testify”.
My wife’s brother comes to visit. It’s Easter Sunday and we go uptown. We stop at Barney’s for the bathroom but it’s closed. He feigns surprise, “aren’t they all Jews? he says. I say nothing and walk away.
Da, Datta, Dayadhvam, Damyata
Shantih. shantih. shantih.