History Brings the Heart to Repent

by Susan Coronel

After Aracelis Girmay

It is good to praise the grandfather who is dead. Holy love 
dwelled in your Polish accent, words as thick as shoe polish
that you spat out like a curse, to mimic the villagers who spat
on you. War turns even a language ugly. Your holy world
was my grandmother—your first cousin through arranged marriage
who held your hand, kissed the sweet meat between your legs 
until your sons were born. Then you slept on parallel twin beds, 
gaze fixed on the ceiling, not across the aisle or through the corners
of your turquoise eyes. Grandfather, I’m singing this song to you.
The lyrics make your snowbird moustache twitch, and you cover 
your face with a square of white handkerchief. I want to dig deep 
into soil and moisten my face with your remains, then lightly kiss 
your forehead. Like this. My head is so full of regret, holes 
bored through it like bagels. Holes are where the heart goes. 
But holes cannot speak, so I say your name—Charles, Charlie, 
Betzalel in Yiddish. I am walking through the night, the smack of gum
against my cheek, streaks of lamplight on your ruined want. Holy want. 
Engendering want. Grandfather, foxes and mice burrow underground, 
furrowing old fields like lines on your wrinkled brow. What secrets 
did you swallow whole? How I want to cradle you in a crater, 
ricochet back forty years to when you asked me to record your stories
and I turned my face away, like a widow looking out a window. 
I asked you years later, but you said too late. Too late for stories 
that went to sleep. Gey shlufen. Now there are no stars inside the body. 
But there is still sugar in my teeth, granular like the first guttural utterances
that rip apart shiny pools of stone. I open my lips as if they were meant
to part. You said birth and death are the only events that can enchant
this world. The continuum of stars and water will persist, as it did 
long before you entered this world, and as it will long after I depart.

Susan Michele Coronel is a poet and educator based in New York City. Her poems have appeared or are forthcoming in publications including Spillway, The Inflectionist Review, Gyroscope Review, The Night Heron Barks, Prometheus Dreaming, ONE ART, Funicular, TAB: The Journal of Poetry & Poetics, Ekphrastic Review, and Passengers Journal. In 2020, she received a Parent-Writer Fellowship in poetry from Martha’s Vineyard Institute of Creative Writing. Her poems were longlisted for the 2021 Sappho Prize for Women Poets. She recently completed her first full-length poetry manuscript.