In Frankfurt, a part of you you’ve never met
rises through the spine
and locks your jaw:
someone at the airport will know who you are.
You look down at your passport
certain that by some act of the cosmos
the name will read
but it does not. It says America and Chicago
and Lisa and many
on the passport.
The walkways of European airports are endless
and windowless. What if in the maze
you walk through your gate
and find yourself on a train.
I cannot remember what my Nonnie says
about schmaltz, how long to leave the brisket
in the oven, or the prayer for the dead.
All your life’s inheritances
in the form of things and lessons,
but no one told you about this, this one
here in your throat
How can anyone live here now.
How can anyone think this
happened a long time ago
or never at all.
In the synagogue ruins, we stand on opposite sides
of a rock window
natural as 11th century figures
still acquainted with each other
as though no history had happened
through the rock lung.
You do not hear my sigh, exhale
as you inhale and think
My skin matted out by
the sun, dusty pearl, matching
the ruins we look through to each other.
A sign says verboten.
Because it is the language of your ancestors
you obey. This
is not the language of my ancestors
though there are Jews
who came from here.
We have never been lovers.
After the biergarten, after the river
drowning itself in the river,
after the long stroll through
the Rhinealley, music
in the vast cathedral
air from the crypt below
rising, centuries old
like the groundwater
below the synagogue ruins
just across the plaza. Judengasse
abandoned. The cathedral
where we are among a listening crowd. Pain
on the edges of my body
though bodies do not have edges
but are abstract and rounded.
The helix of music
is the helix of genetics
exhausting me, but waking you up.
It is so cold here.
I cannot cry for how numb I am
down to the breast.
We will never be lovers.
On the stone path leading to our pension,
a gravestone. Hebrew carved in
by German peasants.
They mimicked the shapes
but could not read
the names being written.
left unturned / I cannot turn over. Another story
where the protagonist disappears
without a sound.
Twin beds in our room
bumped next to each other. I am cold
and sleep right away.
In the morning, you are awake
pacing. The news in German, the Rhine
still spilling into itself.
When everywhere else I dream,
For breakfast: coffee, sausages,
a soft-boiled egg.
We’ll find the bakeries
your family ran
before there was a war
to feel close to.
You walk ahead of me
into the grand cathedral.
With my kino-eye, I recognize everyone
looks like you: medieval
and contemporary at once.
We stop for tea in the boulevard
leading up to the imperial clock.
Across the way, three men, street musicians.
Clarinet, accordion, tambourine,
the tune I know from the Hebrew,
at once medieval and contemporary,
at once a peasantry
next to the croon of the regal country. It was
the summer of Wagner
in the country of your ancestors.
You stand before the buildings
that were once run by your family.
You ask me to take your photograph.
When I shoot through the glass
column, the lens flare, the light
so bright I see
black and white
like the photos you’ve brought
from the century before
which you folded and put in your notebook
boyish thing that you are:
If we are far, the war is far.
If I am close to you,
I am close to the war.
I am in the one country
where I have no affairs, where I do not feel
love. When I had no love
I excused anxiety
from the table and sent her
to her room in the attic
where she made no ruckus,
but when I slept alone
in the city of medieval air
I could hear
beneath the ice sheets
the low murmur of her
You can’t get to Salonika
without passing through.
In the last city Rueben lived in
in Europe, I feel present
instead of historic. People
look like him, like my mother,
olive skin and coarse hair.
I ask where the right stones are.
I look for plaques to read.
I pace in and out of the hours.
The plaza where they burned the bodies
like banned books. The museum
tucked in the maze of Salonika.
Hide my face when I weep
sitting on the marble bench:
You would hide
me, you would hide me, you
would hide me,
if we were in a different time.
No one in my family
survived the Holocaust.
Everyone in my family
survived the Holocaust
though none is a Holocaust survivor.
Where were you
when the winds changed,
when you knew he would never be
Greek or Turk
because he was something else
without a nationality
but with a race
threaded thin as fishing line
all over Europe and heading west.
Was it in the shvitz house
next to a Greek orthodox church.
Was it in a letter from the state,
a glance from his blacksmith,
a season of lemons that stayed green,
a lightning storm on the coast
of the city where so many bolts hit
at once, I had to believe in Poseidon.
Was this town Greek or Turkish
when he left. Was he a Turkish boy.
Were there poplars to swing from in the yard?
Yiddish. Hebrew. English. Hide
below deck, barrels of olive oil,
until you get to port.
Hide your face. Speak in Greek.
When they offer ouzo, ask for one
ice cube. When they offer yogurt
in the morning and they’ve already brought
ham and bread, say efkaristo.
You can’t leave Salonika
without passing through.
You can’t go back
Lisa Hiton holds an M.F.A. in poetry from Boston University and an M.Ed. in Arts in Education from Harvard University. Her poems have been published or are forthcoming in Linebreak, The Paris-American, Hayden’s Ferry Review, Denver Quarterly, New South, and LAMBDA Literary among others. She has received the AWP Kurt Brown Prize, the Esther B Kahn Scholarship from 24Pearl Street at the Fine Arts Work Center, and two nominations for the Pushcart Prize. She is the author of the chapbook, Variation on Testimony (CutBank 2017). She is the Senior Poetry Editor of the Adroit Journal and the Interviews Editor of Cosmonauts Avenue.