Eating a Persimmon, 1954
At four years old, in her grandpa's lap,
sun-warmed inside an Odessa courtyard,
my mother tests out a persimmon.
She has never met such weird fruit:
sweet jellyfish creepy-crawling.
Nu, es, little meydeleh, eat,
her grandpa glows at her, a Jewish wizard
visiting from a collective farm.
His beard smells like cow poop.
In quiet Russian, she asks: Grandpa,
do people actually like per-sim-mons?
Oh, mansy! Silly stories!—he brushes her off.—
Is this why I walked all over the Privoz Market
for one perfect piece of fruit I could afford—
just for you? Have some good selch and eat.
My mother sighs and tries to swallow the globe,
which spins sixty quick times around the sun,
finding her with her grandson and me,
all of us considering a bowl of conical,
identical supermarket Hachiyas, freckled
by California, where she lives these days.
And this story she tells us. And Adam,
with his nyet, thanks but no thanks, Grandma,
for that fruit. And my mom, who decides
to reveal, then, the DNA of our family's
eating: a pogrom, she says, chewed up
her uncle, a violinist, as he ran to shelter;
the world chomped on a branch
of our family like a deer, just needing to eat,
just minding its own business,
for instance, a six-year-old boy—
had he not died, he'd be an older brother
to my mother. She was not born yet,
the first child to sprout in that great
mishpooha after the war. They all gave me treats,
she smiles sadly: Going a bit hungry themselves.
I ask what a treat was back then. A handful
of sugar? How godlike, that persimmon,
I think to myself. My mother's grandpa
must have imagined he gave her the chance
to be—just this once—the eater.
How, instead, he gave her
an order, force-feeding the love of forced
feeding, the unsubtle art of forcing
that I spoon-feed to Adam, with a dash
of Russian, which passes for some
Vitamin R—to make a child Feel Rooted.
How there may still be a persimmon
here: couldn't my great-grandfather
want his only grandkid to know pleasure?
He could wish for her to dive
into a surprising place—
neither the unwatered earth,
nor memory's ruinous hug,
Olga Livshin was born in the Soviet Union, and came to the United States with her family as a teenager. Her poetry, essays, and translations from Russian appear in the Kenyon Review, Poetry International, Jacket, and other journals. Recent work is recognized by CALYX journal's Lois Cranston Memorial Award, Gabo Translation Prize, and other competitions, and was translated into Persian by Mohsen Emadi. A collection is forthcoming from Poets & Traitors Press. Olga lives near Philadelphia, where she co-organizes a series of readings by poets who are refugees or descendants of refugees.