SPLIT THIS ROCK: Poems of Provocation & Witness

Yael Flusberg

 

WHEN COLUMBIA ROAD DIDN'T PASS ME OVER

Safeways in DC used to be known by nicknames

The Soviet Safeway:
steep shortages, long lines
The Social Safeway:
the upper crust meeting
by the grain-fed meat,
still warm baked goods
sweetening the road to silver-
spooned dates.
The Ghetto Safeway:
produce like slimly picked
past-overs from wealthier ‘burbs
where we could not get to
unless bused. Fruit flies flipping over
desiccated bodies of soft red onions
like disaster survivors to supply trucks.

In a city within a city that descended
our sticky sweet dark district nine months
each year, we trusted these nicknames
as truthsayers –- never the newspapers’
version of our quality of taste.

This was back when summer jobs
were patently accepted patronage perks,
when neighborhood parks were full of teens
parking on the basketball court to reach
their high. A time of cross-town five
and dimes and bow-tied Nation
of Islam sentries patrolling
public housing projects.

Then, the Green Line rolled in, speeding up
another kind of greening of the hood.
From divestment leftover from ’68
to diversity as a sales pitch carrying
signs of change: Joggers east of 14th.
Doggie day care next to chained fried chicken.
Tanning on U in a “Deluxe Building”
named for the Duke.
In apartments where tenants were bought out
and billboards arrived proclaiming
Urban Living!” long-time residents were treated
to outside views of duplexed track lighting
open space designs – and even organic edamame
at the Ghetto Safeway on Columbia Road.

It was not the natural products that momentarily
froze me in ‘99, but four varieties of blintzes:
cheese, cherry, potato and blueberry.
Two aisles over, a new section
displayed products for my early spring
harvest: crispy matzoh and jarred kreplach
coffee with cardamom, candles the color
of snow for benching yarzeit over my dead.

At least some of those I’d resented
for their sudden willingness to slum it
south of Mason-Dixon, some of whose culture
I had whited out must have been Jews.

Safeway simply welcomed them as it had earlier
generations of Jamaicans and Salvadorans,
Amerasians and Oromians.

I prayed the newcomers would not think
that community engagement meant
emailing missives to neighborhood
listservs on public peeing, or proposing private
parking places, tot lots and doggie runs.

I prayed that this Passover would not keep me
enslaved to narrow definitions of who is who
according to what can be viewed in the space
that you can squeeze through between cases
of holiday sale items.

In Hebrew, God’s everyday name is “HaShem”
or The Name. Some say names dictate destinies,
but I’ve seen names mark times like red ribbons
that keeps book spines intact, but let the story
continue to surprise.


 

Yael Flusberg began writing creatively in her late 20s to help her understand why her parents' experiences, surviving attempted genocide in their birth countries, powerfully shaped her own life choices. Since then, her essays, poetry and reviews have been published in anthologies and journals including America: What's My Name?, DC Poets Against the War: An Anthology, Lilith, the Potomac Review, and Travelers’ Tales. Yael lives in DC’s Ella Jo Baker Intentional Community Cooperative; works as a coach and consultant with social change organizations, artists and entrepreneurs; and teaches yoga.

 

Published in Volume 9, Number 1, Winter 2008.

 

To read more by this author:
Yael Flusberg: The Wartime Issue