Before we light the Shabbos candles, she puts my hair up into a braid:
She pulls the chestnut sections tight, tugs the young strands out:
Wise to the root, her fingers tend to the seed:
She scrubs the corner of my mouth and I am anointed—
crowned in plait and blue ribbon.
I am her eyes and she kisses them like gems.
She welcomes our day of rest like dew. She draws her fire.
We peel potatoes and submerge them in ice water:
Bubby leans over the bowl, rubbing her memories to a pulp—
Her arms are ropes, a life-line immune to cold.
I cough a little, weep a little, from the sting of onion
and from comments that spring from her like coils.
“We didn’t even have toilet paper. We had no shoes.”
She strokes my face, her wrinkled palms rubbing
their coarse maps to my cheek.
My mouth fills like water. I want the golden crust —
like Bubby, a good Kugel trembles, butter on the inside.
We punch at the huge flesh of dough inhaling sweetness,
And we deflate with a sigh—
for the small piece we remember to set aside and burn.
Pliable, the dough yields under the rolling of our palms:
The dough taking on her blessings:
We stretch logs, like memory, and they become branches
that lean toward the future.
She teaches me to look backward, to brush a wash of yolk.
She molds the challah with tenderness then pinches it closed,
moves it closer to the warm oven to rise. It will bake high
to our soft prayer. This is our leavening—
We bless it when we bear it. It is our manna,
sealed hard with gloss and golden sheen.
An earlier version of this poem was first published in Prism: A Holocaust Journal 2011.
Pessie (Sherry) Horowitz was born in Canada to offspring of Holocaust survivors. At the age of nine, she immigrated to Brooklyn, New York, in an environment “steeped in traditional Hasidic Orthodoxy with strong post-Holocaust sensitivities.” She received her MFA in Poetry at New England College through which she received the Joel Oppenheim Scholarship Award. You can find her poems and book reviews in magazines such as Jewish Action, Innisfree, Poetry Journal, Poems Niederngasse, Prism: A Holocaust Journal, Midstream, Tygerburning, Poetry International/Web del Sol Review, A Quest for God Anthology (UK) and OVS Magazine. Most recently her work has been nominated for the Pushcart Poetry Prize. She lives in Monsey, New York, with her family.