Heirlooms from my father’s family wrapped in brown paper packages
with blue ink and foreign postmarks faded by a prairie rain burst
will not be delivered to the cream house with green trim and gable roof
where I live. The house belongs to my husband in name only —
that’s what he tells me. But I am relieved by my own perceived lack of responsibility
to stone and wood, glass and metal, to a past that will never arrive
neatly parceled without warning on the doorstep in bundles survivors always carry.
Steamer trunks and shabby suitcases —
the essentials – linen, utensils, wool sweaters –
the familiar possessions – family photos and violins, clocks, and silver candlesticks.
In a movie, the refugee husband tells his wife, “You must choose — the lamp or the vase,” tossing the sacrificed object over his shoulder
in the farmer’s field. Is my grandmother’s engagement ring still buried in the mud?
Maybe another woman wore the ring without guilt, passing on my inheritance
to her own daughter, sidestepping my anonymous birth like a salver of food
handed over the heads of guests at a king’s banquet. I will never inherit
My mother wears her wedding band with the sapphire ring he gave her
on Christmas morning. Her gift to him that year: a hand-carved music box
played Lara’s Theme to the Ukrainian couple nestled in a winter sleigh,
the woman’s pink cheeks and bow smile, the man’s firm hands on the reins.
It went unnoticed. Each note collapsed under the weight of my father’s memory.
The war made objects a burden, you see. His family’s land, home, brother,
freedom, and all taken, he came to America to see if the streets were paved
with gold. Coins buried deep in his shaving stick, a watch, his glasses —
my father carried little. He hid photos of his parents across the continents between the pages
of his prayer book I did not inherit. After his death,
his stony hands clasped the burning scripture.
This, the marker of his life, this, the reminder of his death I cannot hold between my fingers.
The only artifact I still want.
The inheritance I carry in my suitcase does not let me choose between the lamp and the vase
will never compete with the touch of something solid.
This is not the loneliness of my father. I believe the souls of Ukrainians have been sad for centuries. This loneliness is mine to manage.
The choice has always been mine to make. In empty spaces, my voice
bounces against blank walls. Driving past old apartments, I leave
the address, the phone number, the streets behind easily. Because the choice
has always been mine to make between my Barbies and Beatrix Potter books
I am not like my mother. Not like my father in the war, hanging on to the things I cannot hold.
In my red, red heart, do I ask too much from the world? The small desires that get me
up in the morning, but the large ones make me dangerous and holy, carnal, and blameless.
I tell the truth. I want a life that is not neutral.
This is my inheritance. Silent as snow falling at midnight on Christmas Eve in London.
Long ago, I learned that verse is the solace for whom bread is not enough.
I can choose between the lamp and the vase without remorse.
I’m told that I have always been callous
with my belongings, but this is a lie. A child born to parents who believe
that bread is enough carries the burden of choosing
between sacrifice and desire without punishment. I am on the run —
a fugitive, still running from