"Ask Mom," I said, sullen,
on my hands and knees in the dichondra. He went into
the house, then came out again, and said, stiffly,
"Clean it up. All of it. You'll work until it's
clean, you understand me?" I had violated something
inviolable. What? And why didn't someone help me?
All I wanted was snow..
I found the garden hose and soaked
the dichondra, thinking it would make it easier to
get all the feathers out. I felt alone. And the wet
feathers just stuck worse. I had to crawl every inch
of that green mass, my soggy Capri pants bagging at
the knees and butt, raking my fingertips underneath
the dichondra's clover-tops down to the muddy stems,
where the wet down seemed to wrap itself, intractable.
It got dark. My father snapped on the yard light for
me; no one spoke. I finished after 10 p.m.; my sister
was asleep and my mother had a headache. My father
sent me to bed. No one spoke of it ever again, until
18 Julys later, when my parents returned to Poland,
and to Warsaw, where my mother was born and lived
her youth. After a lifetime of imagining, I went,
The Umschlagplatz, where transports
of Jews were shipped East decades earlier, still received
trains, including mine. Disembarking into the early
morning haze, I realized I was stepping out of a station
where others only stepped in. Better to find a taxi
than dwell on that darkness, I thought, and headed
out to look for a cab.
We settled into our rooms at the
Hotel Warsawa and began to tour the capital once known
as Paris of the East. The elegant. "Cosmopolitan"
restaurant in the hotel lobby was open for business
but hadn't any meat; grocery stores were open, too,
but bare, with long shelves standing empty or lined
with limp cabbages and cauliflower.
A horse-drawn droshky drew us through
the serpentine paths of Ogruzaski Park and the cobbled
city streets until we reached a low, broken brick
wall, the perimeter of what once was the Warsaw Ghetto,
where my mother's family were moved when the war devoured
"We will walk now," announced
my mother, aloud and to no one. My father paid the
driver a fistful of zlotys as my mother strode off,
down Mila Street, past Pawiak, the prison building
where underground school was held, "only for
boys." She looked around as if she could see
through the Soviet-issue cinderblock apartments that
stood on the old streets. Abruptly, she back-tracked
to the block where she had left the burning Ghetto,
through the sewers. She thought she found the manhole
cover in the street, but couldn't be sure. It had
been the middle of the night, she reasoned, and everything
was up in flames. She couldn't be sure.
We traced bullet-grooved bricks with
our fingertips as we wandered the alleys, looking
for remnants of buildings that had burned in the Uprising.
"Here," she said to me,
grabbing my wrist in her hand, pointing up to an empty
slice of yellow-grey sky between buildings. "Here
was the bridge where they shook the feathers."
"Ma," I said, pulling my
arm back, "let go."
"When they took people
out from the Ghetto, see, it was all very official,
with the yellow papers and the official stamps, you
needed the Nazi permission to go to the east. It will
be for the best, they said, we will give you food,
two loaves of bread and a kilo of margarine, and you
will settle in a new place. People believed them--
they wanted to believe, and what did we know?"
"But the women did not
want to leave everything behind; they took pots and
pans, beds, quilts, pillows. This took too much room.
You could always get goose feathers on a farm-- they
thought that's where they were going, see?-- so they
shook out all the feathers on the street, up from
on top of the little bridge, and packed everything
else away. So everything was under feathers the days
the transports left." She looked at me again.
A shudder rose through her, until she touched the
hollow of her throat and pushed back a wavy lock of
hair. Then she stopped talking.
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