Friday, February 05, 2016

To My Mother Olga on Her Birthday





Today is my mother Olga's birthday. My brother Mike posted this lovely photo of her on his Facebook page taken around the time she first arrived in the US in 1948. She was so happy to come to America after the deprivations of living through WWII  in Shanghai, China where she was born to Russian emigre parents. 

I wrote this poem for her one day after picking ramps near Packers Corner Farm in Guilford, VT where I lived at various times.


WILD LEEKS

For Olga Paccidova Shriner (1930-1987)

You don’t see them at first
until you stop and look slowly
at loose leaves of winter debris
scattered across the forest floor.
After awhile, tufts of greenery emerge,
thousands of tender shoots
still too early to pick.
This is the method I learned from Yettie,
a Sephardic Jew from Salonika--
once my neighbor on Packer Corners Road,
To gather morels one year, we sat
on the ground until we noticed our field of vision
shifting to nascent specks of white.
She’s here because of her grandfather’s second sight--
reading in tea leaves that things
were not as they seemed.
They left the dinner table, food half-eaten,
for distant Aegean isles, surviving the war
because of his divinations.

The real miracle year after year
the leeks grow only in this one place.
Each spring, I try to remember
their irony taste drawn from deep soil humus,
decayed pine, juniper, crushed maple leaves,
moss, and rotted wood--
Often, I forget the wild leeks of Keats Brook Road.
I can’t remember how we ended up
in this New England neighborhood—
my mother, Olga (like Yettie), worlds away from her native Shanghai
where bombs fell, first from Japanese then American planes
as she rode her bicycle through the city
to collect bread rations from the Jewish ghetto.
Her heroic stories our dinner table conversation for decades—
We knew that daily ride through fear: sounds, smells,
her chronic hunger, the blown up bits of pregnant women and children.
It’s the shrapnel that kills you, you know, not the bombs.
We allowed her the telling over and over
surrounded by her beloved collection of Americana.
She’s here in the woods now
buried over the hill on Carpenter Road
an early death from cancer at age fifty-eight.
Some years, I do remember the harvest
of wild leeks, their bitter vitality,
my mind a continuity of pungent smells and thoughts
of family, friends, survival, the old world still here
growing up on a hillside in Vermont each year---
regardless if we live or die,
holding forth as though eternal
in a wild assembly of tenderness.

1 comment:

  1. assembly of tenderness--- memories of your mother!!!!

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