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by Carol Aronoff
She didn't understand the long sleeves,
long face and even longer silences.
She sipped her cocoa in a porcelain cup,
ate just out of the oven, out of this world,
rugelach and listened to the Hit Parade.
Her aunt was a dark swan in the kitchen,
sadly rustling feathers as she reached
for Lipton teabags in the white cupboard
with green enamel trim. Her niece noticed
a bit of blue lace etched into her aunt's arm
as her sleeve fell back with the reaching.
It didn't seem polite to ask. Ten years–
her aunt lay dying–nightgown, a white sail
billowing out over lonely sea bed, ruffling
at the wrists. They spoke of kitchen days
then, when simple tasks kept terror locked
in battered trunks in the basement,
when the old country was never mentioned
except in recipes for stoellen.
She held her aunt's worn hand in hers,
stroking bony fingers, alabaster skin.
What had looked like lace
to a younger girl, was really a faded serial
number tattooed on her aunt's forearm
like the marks on a side of beef.
My Jewish numbers, her aunt said,
inscribed on my soul, so I won't forget.
from the book Her Soup Made the Moon Weep