WHAT IS A GHOST

When I came to this fucked country, after waiting years to come, I learned that Greek, in America, meant alien and unintelligible. To be Greek and Jewish was worse. Refugees of the war America wanted to win were not welcome in America. We were spies and Communists, we would spread contagion, steal jobs from U.S. citizens. They opened the gates only to some of us (there were quotas) and even then, reluctantly.

 

About my first home I want to tell you. About my brother long gone. I fill notebook pages hoping once I’m dead someone will carry each sentence across into Spanish. I want you to know how my brother was joyful. How he loved boureki and pine cones and marzipan.

 

You are your own self, little apple, I realize. But is a ghost not simply a vexed resemblance? An unsturdy likeness?

 

No. At least, not simply.

 

On my radio a spewer spews horseshit about criminals at the border. I’d shoot a spewer if I knew how to get close enough.

 

The sun has teeth today, too cold for little boys and old women to be out, so we are in. The library is the quietest room. You love the slippery brown couch to jump on and slide off and pound with your palms. I love counting the spines. The bookshelves smell tired and friendly. We feel safe under this roof, which is stupid of us.

 

We were eating egg-lemon soup, my sisters and I, our mother at the sink, brother on the floor with his pine cone. They kicked in the door so fast we didn’t move, just stared at the soldiers, all of us—the soldiers too—silent for a long silver drop. Then our mother shouted, “What?”

 

Will they find for this notebook a skilled translator? An expert on the idioms of your part of Mexico? I fear the work will be done clumsily, or not at all. I’ll be too dead to insist. But your cousin can insist. I’ll ask her to promise in pricked-finger blood.

 

Is a translation not simply a ghost?

 

Yesterday your cousin spit a broken tooth into her palm, set it by her milk glass, and went on eating. Red kernel of bone. I took it upstairs and rinsed it. I have no use for the tooth but I don’t measure value—nobody should—according to usefulness.

 

At the DP camp, a teacher who barely knew English taught me English. I learned to pronounce apple like able. Please like police.

 

On my radio they don’t say displaced or person. They say without documents, illegal, immigrant not emigrant because Americans don’t remember other nations exist. I’ve lived in this fucked country 62 years and Americans are still they. The we I claim is you and me and your cousin and my brother. Cono de pino. Koukounári. When the soldiers came in, he held the pine cone with both hands, to protect it.

return to ISSUE THREE