By Beth Stevenson
City of my grandfather.
Of you, I know very little.
Photos, there are none.
I am left with only what I constructed
In my imagination,
Of the Jewish quarter, the narrow streets,
And food he must have eaten there,
The smell of Allspice filling the air.
His many brothers and sisters playing on cobblestone
With dark faces and eyes
That are like my own,
And heads covered with thick brown knotted hair.
Angry at myself for not visiting you
When I had the chance.
Crossing that border,
In what became a decision of where I should decide to call home.
I was young and my head in love
And so I left it for another day.
A day that will never come.
As it so happens, that was the one chance life gave me
To know you as you would have been.
To know my grandfather and that other half of him.
It is only as I see the city burned to the ground
That I notice what a beautiful sound Aleppo makes
As it rolls around and over my tongue.
Aleppo with letters shaped like mine.
Aleppo gone. Aleppo lost.
The world I live in lets me see that at this very second
people are being evacuated in long lines from your fallen streets.
Lines I have only seen in films
Of sad single filed folks bundled for winter.
Black eyes, black sweaters
Carrying babies but nothing else
And so so many little girls, dancing under umbrellas.
Jumping in puddles of blood and mud.
Now that grand city is empty.
Except for the bodies of those left behind.
My heart fills with sadness for what we do to each other.
In another life, you could have been me.
I could have been you.
But in this life even your language is lost to me.
And you, you would not recognize me as your kin, if you saw me in the street.
Even if you saw my reflection in your mirror.
Even if my name reached your ears.
I wonder if he would have cried.
Would have shaken his head?
Would have stern words instead?
If his eyes and heart would grow soft
As he remembers that street where he used to live.
Where his mother bore him, where his brothers loved him.
Would he ask himself my same question,
Why didn’t I go back all those years?
But perhaps another generation
Does not ask themselves such questions.
What is done is done.
And what happened has now happened.
And anyway, isn’t it true that you can never go home.
You can never go back.
And meanwhile, these confused pages I fill
For lines of people with eyes like mine.
For all those frightened faces left behind.
For those streets and buildings turned to ash.
For the past that escaped me, just in time.
And the man I will never know.
Just rubble and debris.