The Guests

The children press their noses 

to our bumpy, flawless etrog. 

They hold it tightly, inhale its zesty scent, 

pass it on to apparitions over their shoulders. 

Winged angels – my ancestors – reunite, mingle and drift 

like holy ushpizin visiting during Sukkot. 

Their ghostliness imitates the seven patriarchs

of our people – uprooted, wounded, 

the slash of evil in their bodies

hidden like a tattoo. 

Their strength is a long story, 

a wandering secret they died with. 

The sky blackens, and if we weren’t in Chicago,

stars would peek through the slats 

of the sukkah’s bamboo roof. They nod, pleased

with my children’s names, their manners, 

the colorful paper chains. We tell the children: 

Memory is inherited. 

Ash is in your bones. 

We try to understand the symbolism 

between Egypt and Israel and Russia and Chicago, 

how migration can be read on the face of a phantom.  

We dwell for hours, curl into the warmth of my ancestors

like layered parentheses.

I intertwine my fingers with a ghostly grandmother,

start braiding my hair into her breath, her rhythm.

She speaks oceans, the beating drum of the Diaspora,

and I am silent, fragmented, unfamiliar 

like the cracks of a new mother’s body.

Babushka, the children 

wear your necklaces, pocket your faith.

We face east, and the lulav’s spine bends in our hands:

north south east west up down

toward the past and into the present

as our ushpizin, translucent, translate home, and grab hold.


Like everyone else, Meyer Pretcovtiz never talked 

about Russia. He focused on the weight 

of circumstance, of pushing his cart, fixing its wooden wheels.

At the Maxwell Street open-air market, his legs slowed. 

Out of his cart, Meyer sold clothing, fabrics, spools of thread. 

The ghetto market, they called it, the Ellis Island of Chicago – 

rainbow rows of vegetables and fruit, bedding and towels, 

clothing and Yiddish newspapers, tools and used appliances. 

Peddlers shouted fair prices from peregrine pushcarts. 

Meyer whistled, leaning an elbow into his lot. 

Women in headscarves bought collared dress shirts with spare buttons, 

pulled coins from their aprons for down-payments.

All day, children ran through the market, weaving between

dresses and suits, under make-shift tables and awnings. 

Meyer’s dinnertime stories were of the people he sold to – 

what they looked like, what they bought and didn’t buy or tried to steal,

the way they laughed, open-mouthed, at the Maxwell jugglers and magicians

of the free world, their talk of this dirtied new century of opportunity.

In 1922, peddling money slowed, a wintertime shadow, 

and then the car accident, a slap from his Russian nightmares.

His wife Minnie’s ghost hovered over his cart

despite these promised streets paved with gold. What lies.

Everything became perilous. 

Gangsters negotiating, politicians preaching.

Meyer’s fingers felt tainted from the strange green 

smell of an American dollar. The neighborhood was changing. 

He felt his Jewishness like an impending yellow star.

Jamie Wendt
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