Julia Knobloch is a journalist and translator turned project manager and executive assistant. Before moving to New York from Berlin, she worked 10+ years as a writer and producer for TV documentaries and radio features. Her essays and reportage have been published in print and online publications in Germany, Argentina, and the US (openDemocracy, Brooklyn Rail, Reality Sandwich). She occasionally blogs for ReformJudaism.org, and she recently was awarded the Poem of the Year prize from Brooklyn Poets for her poem Daylight Saving Time. Julia lives in Brooklyn.
When I was young I loved to spend time
with my grandmother, my mother's mother,
Hanna without a final -h, for she was born
on St. John's Eve, in southern Poland, 1921.
I remember her in the state subsidized
south German post-war tenement,
grinding poppy seed for the desserts she baked.
Nu, have some more, she would insist and pour
warm, brown butter over my plate.
She ate whole garlic cloves and giggled:
Call me meshugge! when we came to visit.
She loved cats, a sip of flavored brandy,
red currants, a TV show called Dalli Dalli.
She took my cousin and me to public pools
and swimming holes, the summers then were endless
hot days on balconies or by the village creek.
She sewed us printed dresses and stuffed animals.
She learned to drive a car when she was sixty.
Nu, I had to, she explained, in that fatalistic tone,
my husband was sick, then died -- I was alone.
Though she still rode her bicycle to fetch groceries
at the farmers market, quietly humming.
To evoke her share of a bissel luck, framed
four-leafed clovers hung on her kitchen's wall.
I was impressed she had found them all.
My grandmother had three daughters from three men.
My grandmother was not progressive,
nor did she lead an open marriage.
She covered up the past in fear and shame.
She never told me how one unknown man
became my mother's father, back then
in southern Poland, during the war.
What did you do there, grandma?
Nu, I had to make a living.
My husband fought the Russians,
my Mamale died young.
I had to support my ailing father.
I imagine her at twenty-two, riding her bicycle to work
through the nostalgic meadows of Central Europe,
past blue bottles, swaying rye, red poppies.
One day she returned home pregnant.
One winter night she squeezed herself,
the sickly father, a box of diapers and the infant
onto the last train that went west.
Random tracks brought them to Hamburg,
not to Dresden.
That's why I am here. Well, sort of.
What did you do in southern Poland?
Where did you meet my grandfather?
Nu, let's not rake old Silesian coals.
Have some more poppy seed and butter.