64 Parishes

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Poetry by Cindy Levy

Selected by Louisiana Poet Laureate Mona Lisa Saloy

Poetry by Cindy Levy

Photo by Alex Bush, Library of Congress

Glover Family Mausoleum, Riverview Cemetery, Demopolis, Alabama.

Both born and raised in New Orleans, me downtown, Black Creole from the 7th Ward, and Cindy Lou, uptown and Jewish, we met in the graduate writing workshop at San Francisco State University, heard each other’s work on that first day. We realized just how connected we were by our southern roots and our beloved NOLA, and that as kids, we were geographically, politically, and socially divided, and probably would not have met in those Jim Crow days. After that workshop, we sat on the campus quad and began a creative and cultural sharing that continues today.

—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.”

 

We visit

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

wandering over

 

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

none Jewish

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.”