Lost Generation

by Elizabeth Esris

Hemingway is in Paris

when my German great-grandmother

boils clothes on Marcy Avenue

in Brooklyn. Her feet wear

cast-off leather, like bark

from a dying tree.

She pulls her long hair taut

for chores and children’s cries.

 

My great-grandfather

wants to let it down,

lift her to the night sky as he did

when the New World promised

 

beauty like the stars.

 

He aches to see her in moonlight

 

her hair in his hands.

 

They will share secrets in darkness,

and she will conjure poems

to write with her gold pen, salvaged

 

from their past.

 

 

He works from morning dark, carving

windswept tails, harnessed heads,

and charging hooves of horses.

Each will soar with mirrored lights

and music for hands to reach

a brass ring. His hands are torn

when he climbs lightless stairs.

I imagine him wanting her

 

and knowing “they” are lost.

 

 

He dies when A Farewell to Arms is published

leaving five children and his name.

She keeps stride in his shoes, carves

monuments in five hearts, enshrines

Papa for generations, sends sons

into mid-century, their American contrails

colored with his legend.

They resurrect his artistry over cocktails;

venerate his passion in the haze of cigarettes.

 

 

Then they quip

about his shoes on her feet. Discuss

her house dresses, faded hair,

knotted hands, and incoherent verses

chanted                       to an empty sky.

 

 

Before she dies, she holds

the pearl-stemmed pen,

relic of words unwritten,

the filigree of its golden point

 

a vestige of memory.

 

She wraps it in yellowed lace

and gives it to her daughter.

 

 

This is long before A Moveable Feast

is published, when Hemingway

looks back on Paris and the truth:

 

the hard young years,

delicious and joyful

are gone.


Elizabeth Esris taught secondary English and creative writing in Bucks County, PA for 23 years. Her poems have appeared in journals including Wild River Review, The Schuylkill Valley Journal, River Heron Review, and in France Revisited where a number of her travel articles appear. She wrote the libretto for Elegy for a Prince in collaboration with composer Sergio Cervetti; it premiered in excerpts at New York City Opera’s VOX Opera Showcase in 2007.

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