I couldn’t survive the Alpine mountain
sloping from my name: bending alder branches

into tent frames by hand, jackdaws calling me
to streams where deer, arrow-pierced,

finally fall. I tracked the stag
whose antlers snagged my ancestry

to a cul de sac. There, my cousins were sounds
raccoons made scavenging trashcans.

My grandmother told me once about her
grandmother. How she taught herself English

after misreading a pharmacist’s prescription
and, emptying a box of Borax

into her eyes, blinding herself. I’m how
long it took for my family to forget her Yiddish.

If, as I’ve read, geography is blood-borne,
then there’s an Irish saint in my vena cava

luring pagans toward a thatch-roofed church
by showing them how blackbird eggs hatch

on his fingertips. There’re pogroms.
Torches and sickles. Tremors in a Shtetl’s dust.

As a child, I traced the ridge in my father’s palm
where the fascia splits as if an axe

pressed it in. According to medical lore,
this separation of tissue is linked

to Viking lineage. According to my name,
my real father is my father’s hand.


Benjamin Goldberg

Benjamin Goldberg’s poems have appeared or are forthcoming in POETRY, Blackbird, TriQuarterly, West Branch, Verse Daily, Best New Poets 2014, and elsewhere. He lives with his wife outside Washington, D.C.

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