The Pale of Settlement 1908
A barely discernable photo, worn
at the edges, black and white blurring
into shades of gray.
A grouping of women, ages indeterminable.
I claim them.
Great-grandmothers, a raft of aunts.
Lines etch the corners of eyes, groove
the skin of faces, bracket stern lips.
This is where they live.
Land stretching from the Baltic to the Black Sea:
Belarus, Lithuania, Latvia, Moldova, Ukraine
Harsh sun, fierce wind, snow, snow, snow.
Their lives bound by narrowness.
A regimen of cleaning, cooking, marriage, childbirth, burials.
Yiddish rattles the air—
mishigos, ferklempt, mensch.
On Shabbat they chant Hebrew prayers
memorized, not understood.
Rarely, they sing.
Bodies wide-hipped, eyes squint in pale sun,
their shadows faded with time.
Some of their men have gone, slipping
beyond borders to search for hope
in a land they cannot imagine.
What do these women dream in the quiet of late night
when the horizon lies blanketed in darkness?
About the writer:
Valerie Bacharach’s poetry has appeared in several publications including Pittsburgh Poetry Review, Pittsburgh City Paper, Pittsburgh Quarterly, US 1 Worksheets, The Tishman Review, Topology Magazine, Poetica, The Ekphrastic Review, and Voices from the Attic. She is a member of Carlow University’s Madwomen in the Attic workshops and conducts weekly poetry workshops for the women at CeCe’s Place, a halfway house for women in recovery from drug and alcohol addiction. Her first chapbook, Fireweed, was published in August 2018 by Main Street Rag. She lives in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.
Image: “Echo of the Wind” by Jacob Berghoef. Photograph created in-camera. Berghoef is a self taught fine art photographer with extensive experience both in analog and digital photography. He was born in the city of Gouda, the Netherlands, in 1959 and currently lives with his wife and dog in a small farmhouse in the Thy region in North West Jutland, Denmark. The special (nordic) light and colors in this coastal area inspire his current style.”Echo of the Wind” is an artwork in the series Wander through Deserted Land, a series of photos made in the nature reserve Agger Tange, a swampy area just south of the coastal town of Agger on the North Sea and part of National Park Thy, the oldest nature reserve in Denmark.