Dinner in the Branicki Palace

By Susan Thomas

We stroll under beech trees, 
all elegance and pleasure,
our fat babies in their lacy 
bonnets, their fancy prams
just the same as Polish babies. 
The Polish men in gabardine 
suits tip their hats to us as we 
promenade. We nod our heads, 
slightly smiling. It is summer, 
1935, in Warsaw. We are in 
the first frame of a film they 
show us in Poland. We are 
tourists in the homeland now, 
eighty years later, in the 
reconstructed palace of what 
they now call Old Town.
					
A bomb falls from the sky.
It drops down slowly toward
us, the audience squirming in
our seats. The bomb explodes,
the city in ruins, the faces—
they are our faces—terrified, 
emaciated, the fat babies starving 
and listless. We are herded into 
the Ghetto, pushed onto the trains. 
The city burns, bridges fall, and 
in another frame, people return
by boat, ordinary people with 
pickaxes, shovels. They dig
in rubble to rebuild the city.
					
We go to Bialystok and are given 
a banquet at the Branicki Palace, 
where no Jew was ever admitted. 
We are toasted in the local bison 
grass vodka, serenaded by a klezmer 
band, who even managed a song in
Yiddish. When the band stops playing,
the bass player approaches. 
Will I send him a bialy from New 
York he asks? The roll will be stale.
No matter, he says, it's a relic 
of the time when our town
was prosperous. There were Jews 
who filled the public square, who 
sold bialys in the central market. 

I am astonished by this nostalgia 
for the Jews. Half of me thrills 
with ironic pleasure. The other is
skeptical and bitter. The band begins 
to play again. I dance a little mazurka 
on my way to the bathroom. A Polish 
engineer sees me and jumps out of 
his chair. Let's all dance! The hora 
starts, and the Poles pull the Jews 
from their seats, holding hands in
a circle, kicking up their feet, as if
we were in another age, as if we
were only dancing around the ballroom, 
as if we were only out of breath.

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About Susan Thomas

Susan Thomas has published two poetry collections, State of Blessed Gluttony (Red Hen Press, 2004, Benjamin Saltman Prize) and The Empty Notebook Interrogates Itself (Fomite Press, 2011). She also has two chapbooks, and is co-translator of Last Voyage, a collection of Giovanni Pascoli’s selected poems (Red Hen Press, 2010). Her book of short fiction, Among Angelic Orders, is forthcoming from Fomite Press. She lives in New York City and Marshfield, VT, with her husband, writer Peter Sills.

2 Comments

  1. Posted December 2014 at 7:39 pm | Permalink

    This is a winner, all right.

  2. Posted February 2015 at 12:35 pm | Permalink

    Thanks for your comment,Arlene.

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