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Anne Myles

On Chrystie Street

The Lady in White by Ammi Phillips

Great-grandmother Goldie Peshkin
stands with her back against a stall
in the livery stable on Chrystie Street.
A striker from the Funeral Drivers’ Union
lurches towards her, whiskey breath
in fumes like steam off sweating horses,
voice a rattle over cobblestones:
Where’s Peshkin at?
Wood presses on her spine, and crushes
the crinoline against her thighs.
She realizes she’s waited all her life
to stand beset this way—ancestral terror
she’s been braced for since she was born.
Yet here she is in New York City,
six years into the twentieth century;
how odd to be hated in this new
American way, no longer as a Jew
but an owner’s wife, a woman of property.
Goddamn rich bitch she hears him snarl,
scratchy English rhyme that means her now.
The horse behind her snorts, backing up;
his hooves knock hollowly as her heart.
I’m going to call the police! she cries,
that being what you say in America.
She draws it in, this thing she has become,
hearing the way it sounds, privilege
ringing like a chain, its bitch jaw hard
to hide the tremble underneath.
And then the rush and impact: a moment,
stunned, she thinks a beam has fallen,
but it’s his fist that’s smashed her face,
her glasses cracking, the frame knifing
upwards into her forehead. Blood
runs down along her temple to her chin.
But then he staggers out, just darkness
wobbling through a big square of light.
She hastens to shut the door, she shoots
the deadbolt through and unsteadily returns:
head unfamiliar on her body, stays
clenching her too tightly, everything blurred.
The horse moves close to her again.
She touches his neck to calm herself
yet can’t quite meet his mild, feeling eye.
The damp dung smell could be Bialystok
but isn’t. That world’s all gone, she thinks,
and whatever else might want to find
the weakness in her now, she will make sure
to never open up to it again.


About the writer:
Anne Myles is the author of What Woman That Was: Poems for Mary Dyer (Final Thursday Press). Her poems have appeared in On the Seawall, North American Review, Whale Road Review, and elsewhere. She received her MFA from the Vermont College of Fine Arts and is a four-time Pushcart nominee.

Image: The Lady in White by Ammi Phillips (1788-1865). Oil on canvas. 32 5/16 x 26 inches. Circa 1820. Public domain.

OJAL Art Incorporated, publishing since 2017 as OPEN: Journal of Arts & Letters (O:JA&L) and its imprint Buttonhook Press, is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit corporation supporting writers and artists worldwide.

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