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The Architecture of Memory

                                    Erika Meitner


Dear yellow backhoe, dear yellow grader, dear yellow bulldozer:  
you decipher and dismember our dirt, clay red from iron oxide, 

topsoil stripped by development.  How did anyone bury their dead 
here, when no spot yields to a shovel?  Down the block 

I’ve seen tiny walled-off clusters of headstones for families who sold
their farmland to make our tract homes, but it’s like chipping away 

at stone to get past the first façade of our yard which cracks like 
earthquake cement, holds water like a sealed basin.  My son

loves to curl his hands into half moons and press them together
as a bowl, flatten them to a book.  I’ve been reading the sefer zikoren,

the yizker-bikher that recount how survivors like my grandmother
searched their hometowns in vain after the war for familiar bones 

to bury, and then for their peacetime dead, only to find the streets 
paved with Hebrew inscriptions, gravestones face-up.  Avenging ghosts. 

Maybe you’re already there, grandmother, bulldozer.  Rendered.
Surfaced with asphalt.  The iron gate to the entrance where the cemetery 

once stood.

Each morning in the car my son yells, Detour!, reminds me we’re taking 
the new way since the road is broken.  Orange yield sign, orange cone, 

exhumed coffin of the soon-to-be playground, the promised pool;
heaps of gravel grow and vanish in minutes, and O the brick piles,

the retaining walls that fit (dip-click) into each other.  I will crochet 
my son an afghan of a dump truck, of a backhoe, of a crane 

like the one we stopped to watch this week outside school
raising large metal pipes high above the stadium.  We held hands

and looked past the chain-link fence papered in green mesh 
like a present, past the see-saw and drying sandbox.  Dear

bulldozer, dear grandmother, we are placeless.  We are placeful
but unrooted.  We are boomburbs and copia.  We are excavated 

and hoisted.  We are rubble.  We are

all new and renovated, and when we go in that rapture 
the neighbor preaches about each Sunday (rupture past memory perished)

there will be no ashes.  We will be caught up together above 
alleyways stoops fire-escapes storefronts—all the things

we don’t have in our subdivision, all the things that shined
in your Bronx, from the window of the Grand Concourse apartment—

and before the traffic and rooftops crumble we will ascend in clouds 
of dirt and steel and smoke that spell out warnings:  Do not stay here long.

Leave as quickly as you can once you have fulfilled the mitzvah, 
as it is written:       obligation : locate      obligation : procreate.

Dear grandmother, these are for the most part words not gravestones,
gravestones not books to ward off the melancholy of dusk,  a paper cemetery 

sited next to an arterial cluster of what?  To carry out the commandment 
to remember and remember and remember and then bury it.


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