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Chana Bloch

Hester Street, 1898

No one told them to smile
and they’re too busy anyhow
with their wooden pushcarts.
Aprons! Prayerbooks! Pickles in brine!
They regard the camera with suspicion.
Butting, shoving, elbow and shoulder,
they tilt the street off-frame.
This is the world they dreamt of
when they slept in mud and misery?
If you climb the skyscrapers up to the sky
you can feel the moon on your cheek,
cool and shivery, like calf’s-foot jelly.

Yesterday’s laundry waves from the fire escape,
catching a bit of breeze;
a barbershop pole unwinds
its carnival stripes. Look: life
is better already!
Which means it will go on getting better.

This they believed, this they taught diligently
unto their children,
who taught it to me.
Whatever I give you, my sons, I can’t
give you that.