Poem of the Week by Charles Reznikoff

I went to my grandfather’s to say good-bye:
I was going away to a school out West.
As I came in,
My grandfather turned from the window at which he sat
(sick, skin yellow, eyes bleary–
but his hair still dark,
for my grandfather had hardly any grey hair in his beard or on his head–
he would sit at the window, reading a Hebrew book)
He rose with difficulty–
He had been expecting me, it seemed–
Stretched out his hands and blessed me in a loud voice:
In Hebrew, of course,
And I did not know what he was saying.
When he had blessed me,
My grandfather turned aside and burst into tears.
“It’s only for a little while, Grandpa,” I said
In my broken Yiddish. “I’ll be back in June.”
(By June my grandfather was dead.)
He did not answer.
Perhaps my grandfather was in tears for other reasons:
Perhaps, because in spite of all the learning I had acquired in high school,
I knew not a word of the sacred text of the Torah
And was going out into the world
With none of the accumulated wisdom of my people to guide me,
With no prayers to talk to the God of my people,
a soul
—for it is not easy to be a Jew or, perhaps, a man—
doomed by his ignorance to stumble and blunder.

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