My Grandfather’s Poems

I remember that he wrote them backwards,
In Yiddish, in tiny, slanting, bird-like lines
That seemed to rise and climb off the page
In a flurry of winged letters, mysterious signs.

Scrupulously he copied them out
On the inside covers of his favorite books
While my sister and I romped through the house
Acting like cops and robbers, cowboys and crooks,

Whooping, shouting, and gunning each other down
In the hallway between rooms, mimicking fright,
Staggering from wall to bloody wall before
Collapsing in wild giggles at his feet.

Always he managed to quiet us again,
Kissing us each on the upper part of the arm,
Tucking us in . . . We never said prayers,
But later I could hear him in the next room

Talking to himself in a low, tearing whisper—
All I could fathom was a haunted sound
Like a rushing of waves in the distance,
Or the whoosh of treetops in the back yard.

For years I fell asleep to the rhythm
Of my grandfather’s voice rising and falling,
Filling my head with his lost, unhappy poems:
Those faint wingbeats, that hushed singing.