Liz Marlow

The Little Seamstress, Jozef Israëls, oil on canvas, 1850 – 1888

Sara Visits Avraham’s Tailor Shop

             Berlin, 1933

Fabric bolts line the walls of Papa’s shop—
solid linen resembling shades of sand,
pinstripes so thin they seem to disappear,
and plaids mapping coordinates of touch.
I imagine Papa spooling silk, weaving it
on a loom. Does he imagine me, Mama,
and his customer as mulberry larvae
to protect, cover with silk strands?
After pinning cuffs on pants and a jacket,
avoiding skin, protecting cloth from blood,
he asks me if I’ve washed my hands. After
examining them for dirt camouflaged
by freckles, he says, Feel the fabrics
in your hands,
and I imagine meters
of silk the hue of oceanwater—a wave
rolling on my skin—or becoming
a queen covered from neck to ankles
in gold embroidered red velvet
with pearl and glass beads. When we
get home, I draw a picture of my crown,
turn Papa’s umbrella into my scepter,
and Mama’s full crystal candy dish
becomes my glittering sovereign’s orb—
its globe shape symbolizing G-d’s
power with each piece of candy,
a jewel from a conquered land.

Sara Spins Her Dreidel the Night Before Her Father, Avraham, Leaves to Find Work

           Chanukah, 1939

נ (Nun)
Afraid of the icy ground, dying
leaves, needles, petals cling
to their homes. New moon. There is no
such thing as nothing.

ג (Gimel)
My family tree is a full
menorah on the last night.
Mama, shammash, lights the others
while our flames spin, dance.

ה (Hay)
I peal foil off coins
not used for currency—
gelt. A thin piece of chocolate
cannot fill a stomach.

Nearby, caterpillars hanging
only halfway in this world
hibernate under leaf litter
ready to awaken as moths, butterflies.

שׁ (Shin)
Ante up to play this game, all games.
Hunger growls. Storms steal seeds,
throw them into fresh soil.
There, saplings take root.

Avraham and the Fence

            Minsk Ghetto, 1941

Behind barbed wire: fire
           flies, glowworms reveal
                    their true nature in darkness.
Behind barbed wire: city
           lights compete with a sunrise.
                    Out there, the forest’s fog
becomes so dense, no one sees
           hands extend, no one
                    notices shadows leading
until they touch, devour all.
           Out there, voices
                    on radios never lie.
Here, a father tells a mother
           to leave the baby outside
                    the door; older children
stay silent. No one kills
           babies. She will be safe.
                    Out there, gunfire softens
in the rain. A mother
           crawls out of a mass grave
                    and walks back here, shedding
earth with each step. She says,
           she forgot to put her children
                    in her coat pocket,
kisses their faces in photos,
           says, she will never leave
                    without them again.

Liz Marlow’s debut chapbook, They Become Stars, was the winner of the 2019 Slapering Hol Press Chapbook Competition. Additionally, her work has appeared in The Greensboro Review, The Minnesota Review, Nimrod International Journal, Valparaiso Poetry Review, and elsewhere.

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Spring 2022