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(For Nathan Levin, 1877-1967)

That last day with

my father’s Pop, he stood

by his assisted living

door -- a short thick dark

mustachioed form, squeeze

bag just visible, a tear

on one swarthy leather cheek.

Why tears from that

stern man (a crocodile

who barely smiled), I wonder

now. For him? the long Carpathian

journey through chipped pushcarts to

American ease, near close.

The family splintered into warring

states beyond repair.

His children making separate

visits, not to meet.

Or was it me, then twenty

in a blaze of youth

that might go on to crystallize

in shapes unseen. What fixed

that moment was his lifelong

aura of cigar; mixed whiffs

of urine and mopped antiseptic

floor; the trick he liked to play

with narrow jars that would not

let kid fists out, fat with coins.

And in that moment I moved

helplessly to hug him, surprised

how small the ogre was.

I swear he pressed his bullet

head against my chest.

The summer curtains stirred. Then

we, and he (I thought),

were gone.

From Man Overboard (2018); reprinted in Yearning to Breathe Free: Poetry from the Immigrant Community (Moonstone Press, Phila., Sept. 2019)

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