The Photograph Suggests a Hidden Life

Past Storrow Drive, over the Mystic
River Bridge, my father lived in Chelsea—

home to Katz’s two-step bagel, to perpetually
broken sidewalks. A minor chord

in an immigrant tale—feral curls,
thirdhand coat—my dad looks

into the me he cannot imagine.
His eyes and hips glitter as he stands

against the glass of the family’s corner shop.
After school, working wordlessly beside his father—

leased, not owned—he would repeat—
a livelihood soon-to-fail from unpaid credit

for kosher spam and a carton of eggs. My father gazes
towards me like a cinema darling in a Jewish saga

of fire escapes, flashy dance numbers, suicides.
He becomes a mechanical engineer

who will not be called when his mother dies,
who will never dial his sister’s number again.

My father will build his life from a mountain of questions
without an answer key, a footnote

with an alphabet all his own: part Russian,
part Yiddish, part loss. In the city

that abuts Boston—infamous for bankruptcy,
for the erasures of old countries—his heart tried.

Tonight, I search the photograph
to detect again his history—the plagues

of bewilderment—the tracks that follow
me through the unseen branches

of our family tree; faded patterns of light
and dark, ascending.

Copyright © 2018 Susan Rich. “The Photograph Suggests a Hidden Life” originally appeared in The Plume Anthology of Poetry 6. Used with permission of the author.