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Funny accents and pickles

It begins with an aleph, the diminutive

only two people in the world know me by

so when they’re gone, that me will vanish too,

as our mishpOOcheh

the way we pronounce the Yiddish word for ‘family’

that instantly identifies us as plebeian,

not a classy mishpOche

and the people who speak to me in Yiddish

become fewer still, a fact that obliges me to avoid

kintzen, the word my folks use to dismiss gimmicks,

antics, superficial showiness,

whatever calls undue attention to itself

like those who say they speak this mameloschen

because they know two or three profanities

that would never be used by those

who made their home in it:

our gentle, kind teachers

who, before we knew what we must have meant to them,

tried so hard to get something into our farshtopte kep

when all we wanted was to be playing downball

against a brick wall that faced the street

in the shining Sunday morning, that boundless in drawsen!

to which my Dad would expel my brother and me

when our wrestling scuffed the skirting boards.

Too busy to find its own words for herbs that ignited passion,

doused a fever, wildflowers that tugged at the sides of village lanes,

Yiddish trudged from one place to another with its sack

that got heavier and bulkier with breklech from the world’s table,

essen teg, billeted in places that were home but never home

who could see it only in caricature:

funny accents, yokels carting pickles,

outlandish relatives moaning oy vey! as they pinched our cheeks

from their couches on the borders of normality

behind which we fidgeted and forgot, nebech, that in Yiddish

a khokhme— the word for a joke —

is the same as the word for wisdom.


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