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Below are two of Henrietta Epstein's poems
that were read at the last family reunion:
Wedding Photograph: Detroit 1935 Memories
of Normandy Street Detroit
Wedding Photograph: Detroit
1935 by Henrietta Epstein
There is not a flower anywhere.
The bride, my mother, sits cross-legged
on a rented silk upholstered bench
wearing a black dress, black silk stockings
and delicate buckled shoes.
Her raven-black hair is bobbed around her blanched cheeks,
her onyx eyes look out at nothing in this world.
She is thinking of her mother, eight years dead
for whom she is dressed in mourning.
She is afraid that her bridegroom's hand,
which rests lightly on her shoulder,
will firm its grip on her flesh,
or even worse, slide down
and make its claim upon her breast.
She is afraid of the photographer, whose head
is hidden beneath a wide black sheet,
afraid of what he sees
through the mysterious glass eye that is focused
on her and the man standing behind her.
The bridegroom, my father, is smiling
at the photographer's bidding,
even though he is thinking of the rent unpaid
on their apartment in Chicago
and of the wedding ring, unpaid for
in the pocket of his new suit, unpaid for.
His palm on his bride's shoulder grows damp,
and later a small stain will appear
in the satin panel of her dress.
He wants her to know that he never meant
to let things pile up against him,
he wants her to know that he lied,
that although he threatened suicide,
he might not have drowned in Lake Michigan
had she refused him;
he wants her to know that the promises
he made to her brothers
were the core of his own dreams, not lies
as she had discovered them.
As their picture is snapped
and particles of unearthly light surround them,
the bride, my mother, will feel faint
and drive her fingernails into the silken seat
where later, the photographer will notice
the torn jagged shreds in the fabric.
Then the bride and groom will pass
through an archway to a room
full of brothers and sisters.
In the bride's dark eyes,
the assembled guests will alter,
will lose their wedding finery and become
the strangers gathered at the tracks
of the Hastings Avenue streetcar, where she,
returning home from school
had pushed through the crowd to find
her mother dead on a Friday afternoon,
the Sabbath candles fallen from her shopping bag.
Once the bride, my mother and the groom, my father,
are seated at the long banquet table,
the rabbi and the guests will begin
the prayers over the wine and bread;
before they are finished, the bride
will rise form her place beside the groom,
she will slip from his grasp
and run to the center of the great hall,
her voice, high over their voices
will wail the prayer for the dead:
her black-sleeved arms flailing before her,
"Oh, Mamma, Mamma, Mamma, why did you leave me alone?"
- Henrietta Epstein ©1992
Memories of Normandy
Street Detroit by Henrietta Epstein
The boys I loved never played baseball.
They collected baseball cards and knew every
major league player since 1914 and their birthdates,
their batting averages, their RBIs and
their times at bat and their ERAs.
They weren't right anyway; they stayed indoors
for hours while the rest of us were out
bombing Mr. Froelich's garage with crab-
apples because he was old and German.
They were too tall to be happy, and stood
in the last row in the Glee Club choir and
always knew all the words. When they walked
you to the bus, they could never hold your hand
or put their arms around your waist
because they were holding their books and
their violins case in the other hand.
They studied Latin and never fought in the right wars.
They went to Italy on fellowships
and collected fine prints from Japan.
They never married.
On the day before Christmas, one of the boys I loved
died in a university hospital of cancer of the colon
at the age of nineteen. Thirty years later,
on the day before the Jewish New Year, his best friend
died on Belle Isle of self-inflicted wounds.
- Henrietta Epstein ©1994