Each One of Our Ancestors

I pray, but I didn’t used to call it praying
it is ritual, song, hope
each one of us together in the borrowed church
each one of us in our own body
each one of us alone with our thoughts
each one of us connected by our hearts
each one of our ancestors on our tongues.
 
Each one of my ancestors.
The only grandmother I knew became
a Communist, once she made it from Russia to America.
My father asked her, longingly, if he could get bar mitzvahed—
it was never going to happen.
Did she laugh at religion, as a good Communist should?
Did I invent this phrase to tell the story?
Whose words on my tongue?
 
Each one of her ancestors on her tongue
she tells me about
her father, a lay-rabbi in Russia
so strict nothing could be cooked on Shabbat
she and her sister, hungry in the middle of a Saturday
cooked two potatoes while he was out
just as they were about to eat
they saw him through the window
she and her sister put the potatoes down the toilet
she giggled when she told that story
(and she was not a giggler)
her sister Manya, my great-grandfather Abraham
on her tongue
but no boiled potatoes.
 
My tongue is comforted
that my Shabbat space holds more
than the bodies around me,
they struggle as I do with prayer with
God with
beauty and ugliness with
boredom and fear,
in empty spaces
each one of our ancestors sits in pews,
looks at the open Torah
brushes our shoulders
davens
wonders that women wear a tallis
whisper and murmur
their voices the faintest vibration
a buzzing on my tongue.
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