Fog over Ashkenaz

By Dan Alter

What covers where I come from
Ancestors’ ground a floating zone between countries

called the Pale       or was that from the shade of their skin
in Christian shadows       My father’s eyes

come from names I’ve tried to learn       & lost

1100 years of sojourning can’t be wrong      but my four
grandparents among the lucky enough
to leave before       The trouble I’m starting out in

a gap that widens       In the swallowing whole was it all
lost       or did their spirit filter to points the letters
mark       a hole I’m looking into       Yiddish

speakers in the shade of black forests       Somewhere near

say Vilna their feet must have touched ground             Alter
meaning elder in Yiddish      which is sticky with
11th Century German       what haven’t you lost

of their art      Fog is general all over Ashkenaz
In minutes the shtetl names have drifted      Wouldn’t

I feel a whole lot better not rummaging
for origins in that tight a crawlspace       Still

five layers of shade make the skin paler

than fog       Yes it ended badly but my father
didn’t get his blue eyes from nowhere

Dan Alter’s poems and reviews have been published in Field, Fourteen Hills, Pank, and Zyzzyva, among others. His first collection “My Little Book of Exiles” is forthcoming from Eyewear Press. He lives with his wife and daughter in Berkeley and makes his living as an IBEW electrician. He can be found online at .

Image Credit: “Texas and Pacific (continued)” by DeeAshley

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