When I was old enough, my mother showed me
a picture of her father she had shredded—
tucking the tiny pieces into her bra
to keep them hidden during The War.
Her life would have been over, she told me,
if anyone had discovered the bits of Jew on her.
She—disguised by her red hair, a silver cross,
and impeccable Polish—needed to stay alive
to keep the promise made to her mother
to save herself.
After The War, my mother found a Jewish
photographer in Berlin who did his best
to make the picture whole.
He apologized for the eyes.
A straight tear through the center
of my grandfather’s gaze
made it impossible to
restore his eyes—which were softer, my mother said,
much softer than they appeared.
My grandfather’s burning gaze,
interrupted by a war,
stares back at me across time.
My mother never stopped regretting
the eyes not being right,
as if she had done something wrong,
as if she might have preserved him better than she did.