I scan the death notices for the Stars of David,
Knowing I likely never knew the newly dead.
I never knew them but I still feel a twinge of sorrow,
A fluttering of familiarity.
It’s the names that do it: Schwartzenberg, Kaufman, Goldfeld, Grotstein –
consonants in shared spaces,
living beside others mismatched in polite society.
And all the Maxes and Milts, Sols, Irenes, Sylvias, Loises, Rhodas, Sams.…
Names on doors in the old folks’ homes
And on first graders lunch boxes.
I’m a small-town Jew.
These names have followed me everywhere,
A Friday night scorecard.
Names that live like marrow in my bones.
I see them chiseled in stone at the cemetery,
Names whispered, spit out, guttural and earthy.
Names that come with the smell of cigars or the burn of ambition,
The wisecrack or the whiff of dread they left behind.
Names not holy but sacred,
They shine for me, luminescent,
Wry humor soaked into them.
When I was a boy, I would watch “What’s My Line” with my mother.
And when Bess Meyerson sat on the panel,
My mother would remind me,
“She is the first Jewish Miss America”,
Apropos of nothing and of everything.
As it was a high honor
To bear that badge
Of that name
And move through this world
As if it never mattered,
Noticed and unseen.
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