After Kissing in Vietnamese by Ocean Vuong
Grandma Freda kisses as if she could
protect me with her crimson tattoo.
Lesincoo seals my ears with endearments.
She kisses my smooth hands, my fingers meant
to turn pages, not to labor in sweatshops.
She kisses as if each kiss were a kush fun lebn.
As if her kisses ensure I’ll be passed over
by plagues. No pogroms, no gas chambers
no yellow stars—if only she kisses me enough.
Her kisses like drops of honey for her shana madela.
You’re too skinny—Her kisses
put meat on my bones. Inoculate me
from sticks and stones, No Jews Allowed.
Her sugar cookies, apple cake, dill-scented
chicken soup are kisses, too. When Grandma
Freda kisses, she inhales my little girl scent,
makes me feel like sunlight. She sits in her pew
on Shabbas, kisses my cheek as I snuggle by.
I glint with her imprint. Grandma Freda kisses
with her full bosom, her skinny legs pulsing
rivers of blue. Her kisses a map to follow
when my body fades. Now, I paint my lips
crimson, leave red tattoos with my wrinkled
lips on the grandchildren bequeathed to me.
first published in The Jewish Writing Project
Leslie Neustadt is a retired New York Assistant Attorney General, poet, visual artist, and the author of Bearing Fruit: A Poetic Journey. A board member of the International Women’s Writing Guild, Leslie’s work is illuminated by her Jewish upbringing and inspired by the beauty and power of the natural world, mortal joys and struggles, and an unwavering commitment to human and civil rights. Online at www.LeslieNeustadt.com.