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Becky and Benny in Far Rockaway

Near the Atlantic Ocean, past the last subway station,
Streaks of sand on the sidewalk,
Armies of aging Jews soaking up sun
As if it were Talmud,
And the rickety white stairs
To an apartment like a frail body.
 
My uncle and aunt were both warty, like alligators.
They set a lunch on the oilcloth-covered table.
I felt peculiar about the smells.
 
The lunch seemed to go on all afternoon,
Anxious syllables floating over my head like fireflies.
Shayne maydel was me.
Eat, they said in English, eat.
So I ate, and finally reached the pastoral scene,
Bo Peep, pink roses, green leaves
At the dish bottom,
One of those sweet, impossible memories
Jews used to buy themselves in America.
 
The two of them beamed,
Gold-toothed, as if their exile were canceled.
You should eat and be healthy, they said.

—Alicia Ostriker

“Becky and Benny in Far Rockaway” by Alicia Ostriker from The Book of Life: Selected Jewish Poems 1979-2011.

University of Pittsburgh Press, 2012.

By permission of the author.

Alicia Ostriker

Alicia Ostriker

Alicia Ostriker (1937- ) was born in Brooklyn, New York and educated at Brandeis University and the University of Wisconsin-Madison. She is the author of twelve poetry collections and two critical volumes on the role of women in poetry. She has received fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts, the Rockefeller Foundation, and the Guggenheim Foundation. Ostriker is professor emerita of English at Rutgers University. Photo Credit: J. P. Ostriker.

Learn more about Alicia Ostriker at The Poetry Foundation