Poetry by Cindy Levy
Selected by Louisiana Poet Laureate Mona Lisa Saloy
—Mona Lisa Saloy
White Bluffs and Miss Lena
Searching for the family of the renowned Jewish writer Lillian Hellman
led me to a phone call with a Jewish lady in Demopolis, Alabama:
“You can visit but
I don’t know if I’ll have anything for you.”
Rising sheer from the Tombigbee River
at eighty-five years old
the youngest of the handful of Jews
picks me up in her Chrysler.
Eager to show the tourist postcard of
“the house I grew up in-
a plantation before the Civil War.
I moved out over seventy years ago.
See on the corner it’s holding up well.
I feel it’s still mine.”
the Jewish cemetery
the black loamy Alabama soil.
Her plot saved next to her
“husband was so sick and then he died
before he could look for this one cousin
we thought was still alive
in Czechoslovakia, whatever they call it now.
So I searched and I found
the temple and the cousin
so happy to meet me too.”
Acres of green grass.
Markers from 1800’s
The first Jewish peddler
settled his family
His business King Cotton
and hundreds of Jews
into the twentieth century.
Valedictorian of her high school class
She doesn’t want me to take her picture.
“We saw every Broadway play by Lillian Hellman
whose mother was a Newhouse from Demopolis
grandmother a Marx—
sharp tough hard retailers.
Lillian looked like the Marxes
who knew how to trade
horses and mules.”
“On North Walnut Avenue and Washington Street
The Marx Bank was sold to the Robertsons.
Isaac Marx built B’nai Jeshurun Temple
Home of the Righteous and Beloved.
They’ll let us visit.”
“The deed to Temple B’nai Jeshurun was signed over
to Trinity Episcopal Church for $10 in 1989.
They keep it up for us now.
We never had a rabbi.
Now it’s a small wooden room
Ten rows of chairs
Three hundred year old Torah.
I do have wonderful memories
Every Friday night
we read in English from the Union Prayer Book.”
“I talk to my daughter every day.
She married locally.
He said the children could attend services
but it was a different story
after they were born.
So I have six grandchildren
but I read them the prayerbook
and the other day one recited
Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart with all thy might.
Another calls long distance.
It’s wonderful to have someone who takes advice.
My son went off to school, has no children
Helped set up the college funds for the others.”
“Time to sit down for chocolate cake
a business partner of my husband still mails at Christmas.
Do you know Jews up North don’t even have Christmas?”
She dabs her eyes with a handkerchief,
“Holidays are sad when those you love are gone.
My nice china and silver are at my daughter’s.”
“Isn’t it wonderful we had our weekend.”
Cindy Levy was born and raised in New Orleans soon after the Holocaust, and decades later she was the kickoff speaker for a program, co-sponsored by Amistad Research Center, marking the 50th anniversary of the integration of public schools in New Orleans. During her tenure as a professor at Southern University, she was awarded a $30,000 National Endowment for the Humanities award for work on Jewish women civil rights workers in the American South. She hopes to soon find a publisher for her poetry manuscript, “Broken and Blessed.”