Under autumn clouds, under white
wideness of winter skies you went walking– Denise Levertov
for Efim Levertov
Tell me what gets inherited?
Is it more than a gene for curly hair
or the height of a man?
You – compact, hands not many
generations from the plow,
fingers strong to snap the stalk,
rub the wheat from the chafe.
Instead you toil in a Leningrad factory,
hold tight the reins of the lathe to prevent
its gallop across the shop floor.
You are bound by name
to a cousin you never knew.
Her father/your uncle shed
homeland, religion, sought refuge in England.
Extending the family exodus,
she planted herself across the ocean,
a poet in the New World.
Though she is long dead, you seek her.
I bring you her books as an offering.
You learn her language, dig for facts
like explicating a passage of Torah.
I become the bridge from America
to Russia and back.
Stones to cross the ocean.
With each step you fill in names
on the Levertov family tree:
father, Paul, daughters, Denise and Olga,
the one who died young,
eyes the color of river pebbles.
The night I left Russia you slipped me your photo.
Its expression startled, as if interrupted.
Now I hold this black and white image to the light.
The fear in your eyes still.
Your lips begin to move; sound emerges
in the middle of a sentence.
I lean it on a book of Denise’s
so you can rest at last.