He came to a bungalow near here, just down ZionStreet, at eight or nine or ten. Who was surein the shtetl where the future strangled betweenstarvation and conscription, where it was saferwithout records. Only the year and month of hisarrival are certain, logged at Ellis Island alongwith delousing information. A new name, tailoredby a clerk who tossed circumcised syllables intotrash bins in the long hall. It was the year beforethey shut the gates on types like him, like us,and the uncle never to be seen again. His fatherawaits him, the father he doesn't remember,who packed into steerage, stacked in the stenchof others and sailed to the goldeneh medinahseven years earlier. His father who found a nickel,bought apples, made a dime, saved a nickel, boughtapples, and sent tiny sums month after month, until [End Page 54] he earned citizenship, a horse, a cart, passagefor a son, a wife, but not the twin whose nameburns with millions in the black booksabove the flame. "Last seen: Sobibor, l943,"reads the last tome of D's at Yad Vashem.
Luck, pluck, timing, who knows, but your grandfathermade it, skinny from scarlet fever and a yearof silent walking at night, slipping cold rublesinto hands at borders and crossroads. A greenhorn,a Jew, mute, mocked, overage, and overwhelmedwith joy in the first grade of the first schoolhe had ever been allowed to enter. How he must havewatched, listened and labored to learn, buy books,a basketball, figuring it out letter by letter,translating for parents who would never understand.Little by little, game after game, he got it,burying each piece of childhood in grades and letters,trading bullies for basketball, a scholarship, a world.Erasing, becoming, erasing, becoming. Perhaps he talkedto someone. Perhaps he and his father sat one dayin the dusty yard of the rented bungalow just downthe street, peeled a perfect apple, tasted its sweet,and he let it all pour out in Yiddish. More I cannottell you, except that he never ate tomatoes. "Poison,"he mumbled. "Poison where I come from. Don't ask."He never spoke of childhood. No pictures, no sittingon his lap hearing his stories. Only ball, its pounding,bouncing, baskets and points. "Before basketball"he locked into a silent fist that beat against the wallsof his heart until that muscle tired young, succumbed.
And so to you, this day, I say . . . may luck, pluck,and timing swing from your tassel, billow in yourrobes as you march from the chapel across the greento the waiting stage. And may you remember the gold [End Page 55] basketball that glints occasionally from yourjewelry box, the sweetness of plums and applessold not far from here, and the sweat and silenceof those who brought us here. And may you never knowthe terrible price of such silence. [End Page 56]
Davi Walders' writing has appeared in more than 200 publications, been read by Garrison Keillor on Writer's Almanac, and nominated for Pushcart Prizes. She has received numerous awards for her work including a Puffin Foundation Grant, a Maryland Artist Grant in Poetry, and a grant from The Witter Bynner Foundation for Poetry in support of the Vital Signs Writing Project she developed at the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, MD. Her Jewish feminism infuses much of her work, particularly her recently completed manuscript "ReSisters: Poems of Women's World War II Resistance," now seeking a publisher.