The family never speaks of Lena
But here she is, my aunt
from my father’s side
in the snack aisle at Acme
that used to be A&P
after it was Foodtown
after it was Pathmark
down the block from us
in Hoboken, NJ.
Lena stands in the snack section
weighing a bag of Rold Gold pretzels
versus a bag of Doritos.
What foodstuffs in this new
land of wonder? I follow her
to the canned goods
Progresso Soups, Chunky Soups
Campbells Soups, Well Yes Soups,
the flavors, the variety,
all unkosher, all available,
all on sale. Buy 3, get 5 free,
what sense does that make?
Jesus stands in front of the liquor
section silent, newly dead.
I saw his body at Our Lady
of Saints. One of the few people
I met who looked better
in the coffin than he did
on the streets. Jesus’ name
is Bobby. He was a homeless
man who lived between 6thand 7th
street on the Avenue, the stretch
between the bagel shop and Duncan
Donuts his domain. He’s holding a Bud
tallboy in a brown paper bag. “Thanks,”
he says, the only word he ever says
besides “smoke?” when he sees me
walking down the street. I nod to him
in my usual way and follow Lena
to the meat section, far from the pork
chops to the cuts of beef, so many
choices, what’s a lonely apparition to do?
She surveys the possibilities
sometimes picks up a package
for inspection, moving her lips
as she reads the label.
Lena was killed at Auschwitz.
Her father, my grandfather
drove her out of the house
with a raised garden hoe
after her pregnancy became
apparent. She moved across
Frankfurt with her boyfriend
the army sergeant who disappeared
somewhere along the line.
Her blonde-haired children
Wanda and Dennis murdered
at Terezinstadt. Family history
we don’t talk about. I don’t
talk about. I’m the only one left.
Today Lena is shopping at Acme
and Jesus is eyeing her as she touches
the plums, so delicious, so out of season
on this gray autumn day. He follows her
as she glides down the produce aisle
past the scales and cabbages and spinach
and lettuce and brussels sprouts
until she gets to the front of the store
and sees the pumpkins. What are these
orange monstrosities? Only in America.
If only America.
Jesus takes her by the hand
past the sad cashiers into the parking lot
where the shopping carts are scattered
willy nilly like the souls of her brothers
and sisters. They walk off the grounds
and disappear into what’s left of this day,
what’s left of this world.