Heirloom

My father bequeathed me no wide estates;

No keys and ledgers were my heritage;

Only some holy books with yahrzeit dates

Writ mournfully upon a blank front page —

 

Books of the Baal Shem Tov, and of his wonders;

Pamphlets upon the devil and his crew;

Prayers against road demons, witches, thunders;

And sundry other tomes for a good Jew.

 

Beautiful: though no pictures on them, save

The scorpion crawling on a printed track;

The Virgin floating on a scriptural wave,

Square letters twinkling in the Zodiac.

 

The snuff left on this page, now brown and old,

The tallow stains of midnight liturgy —

These are my coat of arms, and these unfold

My noble lineage, my proud ancestry!

 

And my tears, too, have stained this heirloomed ground,

When reading in these treatises some weird

Miracle, I turned a leaf and found

A white hair fallen from my father’s beard.

A. M. Klein, “Heirloom” from A. M. Klein: Complete Poems. Copyright © 1990 by University of Toronto Press. Reprinted by permission of University of Toronto Press.