Foreigners

The Russian trundles a wooden barrow
through East End streets. I sit astride
a hundred watches as down the narrow

alley ways to Petticoat Lane, we ride
the jarring cobbles. I remember
my zada’s look of quiet pride.

He lives with booba Sarah’s temper,
their house a brick link on a bend
opposite the church and air raid shelter;

a terrace, flush to the pavement
from Mrs Finkel’s corner sweet-
shop to the stone wall at the end

of the street. The women sit
in a row, speak in Yiddish,
nod their heads as they knit and knit.

We cross the scrubbed step, smell fried fish
wafting from the tiny kitchen
where we laugh and drink our borscht.

Zada brandishes his cap at the kittens
that appear and disappear into a cupboard;
another unwanted litter

he can’t bring himself to smother.
It’s fifty years since he sailed for England
to escape the pogroms, he and his brothers,

three immigrants in a foreign land
and still he has to show his papers
although he’s known as Honest Sam.

Near the toilet door, I waver,
fearful of that vigilant circle
of spiders, waiting for invaders

to cross the border.
Uncle Herschel
shabby and alone upstairs, gives no hint
of the secret box on his bedroom shelf

until senility lifts the lid,
opens my door to university,
a foreign country.

The women still sit.
They chat in Bangla, shake their heads slowly.

3 thoughts on “Foreigners

  1. Diana Sanders

    Interesting that you should use a 4 line stanza when talking about uncle Herschel – representing his senility?

    – and the 2 line stanza at the end – representing change?

    I love the rhythm and rhyme of the poem. The whole poem exudes warmth and atmosphere. Beautiful.

  2. Martin Post author

    The two phrases ‘Uncle Herschel’ and ‘The women still sit’ are supposed to be positioned to the right so that they complete the line above to preserve the form. Sorry!

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