Each One of Our Ancestors

 

I pray, but I didn’t used to call it praying

it is ritual, song, hope

each one of us together in the borrowed church

each one of us in our own body

each one of us alone with our thoughts

each one of us connected by our hearts

each one of our ancestors on our tongues.

 

Each one of my ancestors.

The only grandmother I knew became

a Communist, once she made it from Russia to America.

My father asked her, longingly, if he could get bar mitzvahed--

it was never going to happen.

Did she laugh at religion, as a good Communist should?

Did I invent this phrase to tell the story?

Whose words on my tongue?

Each one of her ancestors on her tongue

she tells me about

her father, a lay-rabbi in Russia

so strict nothing could be cooked on Shabbat

she and her sister, hungry in the middle of a Saturday

cooked two potatoes while he was out

just as they were about to eat

they saw him through the window

she and her sister put the potatoes down the toilet

she giggled when she told that story

(and she was not a giggler)

her sister Manya, my great-grandfather Abraham

on her tongue

but no boiled potatoes.

 

My tongue is comforted

that my Shabbat space holds more

than the bodies around me,

they struggle as I do with prayer with

God with

beauty and ugliness with

boredom and fear,

in empty spaces

each one of our ancestors sits in pews,

looks at the open Torah

brushes our shoulders

davens

wonders that women wear a tallis

whisper and murmur

their voices the faintest vibration

a buzzing on my tongue.