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The Back Stairs

By Susan Dworski Nusbaum

My grandmother, Gute-Brina of Suvalk,

sailed to New York with four siblings and her mother, Gittel,

to find her father flown, her Yiddish almost useless.

She learned to speak with just a trace of accent,

read and write English, raise a family,

to on and off the lights, and order groceries by telephone,

shouting the number of Lippman's Kosher Butcher

into the bell-shaped mouthpiece -- yet I watched

her struggle at the phone-stand by the back stairs,

frantic to find the friendly "number-please" lady

replaced by a ring tone and a dial,

my father instructing her where to place her finger,

how to slide it around, release it at the right time.

My granddaughter, her namesake, can't see me

press the tiny keys, text messaging my LV

into her distant bedroom, doesn't know how I long

for the solace of an inflected voice, an audible presence,

the clarity of unabbreviated messages,

as I struggle like Gute-Brina at the back stairs,

to keep the syllables of a lost world

from sliding through my finger.

SUSAN DWORSKI NUSBAUM is a retired criminal prosecutor who lives in Buffalo. Her poems have won prizes in several competitions, and have been published in the Connecticut Review, Nimrod International Journal, Chautauqua Literary Journal, Wisconsin Review, Earth's Daughters magazine and Harpur Palate.