- My Uncle the Golem
My uncle howls atop his junk cart. Jerusalem, Prague, Malden Mass: He's rummaging for junk. He wants me to release him from this sentence; he wants the old mare back—the one they made into glue. I stole the ribbon he braided into her matted hair; I cut it in half: I tied it around my baby finger. I tied it around the ghetto. Now, on the Jewish Sabbath, the goyim are afraid— my uncle carries their stone dreams in a sack.
My uncle squeezes my neck with his clay hands. He wants me to release him, to put down my evil pen. Waist deep in mud, I drew the letter shin on his forehead. I made him my clay servant: He was too busy searching for a tea kettle, one he could glue with a pencil thin seam. Shot glass and kettle and cigar smoke— he dreamt my little-girl curls and the dark half moons under my eyes.
He wants to write his own resurrection. My uncle's crying because he lost his cigar, his fiddle, his rags. [End Page 95] Even his rags betrayed him. The empty Pale: They've forgotten their home— forgotten if they belong in the bucket—forgotten if they're Jews or goyim. He sold them to Scott Towels: He turned them into easy wipes! I pull a hair from his mustache and paste it above my lip. "Let me go," I cry, "I'm collecting my share."
I stand with him waist-deep in mud and dust; he doesn't see me. He's too busy searching for a broken teakettle, one he can mend— a present, tied with a pink bow, for my smiling aunt, who hates his shot glass and schemes to turn rags to gold. My uncle is howling at the half moons under my eyes: "Why do you stay up so late?" he mutters. "Why don't you sing? Even my old horse sings when I lay my weary head on her belly.
You look like a sad sack! What's that load you're carrying? Don't think so much. What man will want you? Don't look so hungry. Here's a kerchief for your head. The women are waiting with their gossip. Get behind the mechiza: You can't dance with the Torah! Where's your husband? I want to dance at your wedding: rags, smoke, and fiddle! You can have this broken teakettle—a dowry!"
I hop back and forth over the eruve. "I'm a junk man," he shouts, "and you're a woman. My horse has gone to pasture. They've built the John Hancock building. Put down your pen. They won't buy my junk. What's the point of living?" I lick a salty tear from his mustache, as he wraps himself in his tallis. My uncle is nailing his own pine box. "Don't rattle my tea-cups," my aunt shouts.
He winks, and puts his forehead to mine He chants Genesis backwards and before my eyes turns to dust. I carry his pine box to the attic: Turned upside down, [End Page 96] it makes a fine desk. Turned on its side, it's the Ark! I wrap myself in my uncle's prayer shawl and chant Kaddish: His ashes are on the mantle in the teakettle. I swig a shot, light my cigar, howling on my cart!
Sandra H. Tarlin is Assistant Professor of English at Bronx Community College, CUNY. She received her Ph.D. in English and Creative Writing from the University of Houston in 2001. She is in the process of completing her first book of poems, The House on Fire. Most recently, the 2005/2006 Anna Davidson Rosenberg Awards for Poems on the Jewish Experience granted her second place. She was born in 1957 to first generation American parents of Eastern European Jewish origin who were making the transition from sacred ritual time to an intellectual life. "My grandparents blessed me with Torah and Tolstoy. My parents presented me with Euripides and Whitman, women's rights and desegregation. I gave myself the...