History

Aug 11, 2017

Today's poem is "History" by Roberta Chester. She's the author of Light Years and taught English and Technical Writing at the University of Maine, College of the Atlantic and at Hebrew University in Jerusalem.

Roberta wrote "History" after moving to Maine from suburban New Jersey in the 1970's. She write, "Feeling like a stranger in a strange land - though I certainly come here by choice in search of an alternative lifestyle for myself and my children - I thought of my grandfather, as I enjoyed the feeling of the good earth in my hands. I am sure I was feeling a complex (range) of emotions that included guilt, nostalgia, and relief as I planted my first garden thinking of my own roots. Perhaps my muse was amused that my grandfather, who left rural Russia for a tenement in New York City would have been happy seeing me growing my own food as he had done. Certainly I had to be grateful that he had left his birthplace and his home, forced out by the Czar, because he had escaped the famous killing fields of World War II, like Babi Yar and so many others.

This is a poem that is definitely from here but written from the perspective of someone who was, and will always be, from away. But like those seedlings I planted in my first garden so many years ago, I have put down roots here and have come to cherish my sense, albeit limited, of belonging.

History
By Roberta Chester

I can thank the Czar
for the dirt between my toes,
the peas climbing the wire
and everything that grows
in spite of stones on this piece of land
in Maine.
He took my grandfather’s land away,
thick, and heavy with trees,
in one of those occasional
pogroms.

Without his land
my grandfather had no reason to stay
and so he came here
with nothing to his name
except a woman,
who would live till she
was one hundred and three,
and a small son.
My grandfather searched the streets
for the gold of maple leaves
and paced the pavement
in his hiking boots.
I used to lace them up for him
beneath his eyes
dark as woods.

My grandfather lived
to thank the Czar
for kicking us out
of Europe’s way
and over the sea.
My grandfather’s eyes
look out from between the trees.
He knows how good the dirt feels
on the palm of my hand,
and how I shudder
at the white paper
in the marketplace.

Poem copyright © 1983 Roberta Chester.
Reprinted from Light Years, Puckerbrush Press, 1983
by permission of Roberta Chester.