Grace Paley

Song Stanzas of Private Luck

       To be Added to Sometimes
       and Sometimes to Be Subtracted From
       As Events Prove One More Wrong than Right

Oh the year before I was born
              the sanitary napkin was invented
              the sanitary napkin
              the sanitary napkin
Nearly as important as the diaphragm
              more important
              for the girl child’s first life
the cleanliness     the sweetness
              the excellent blood-consuming
              sanitary napkin

(And in parenthesis     according
to The New York Times     in my sixty-fifth year
the women of Eritrea were freed
              to enter the legislature
              and the trenches
this was because a sanitary napkin factory
              had been established
              a  state enterprise with
entrepreneurial intentions as remarkable as capitalism)

Oh the year I was born
              The Joint Distribution Committee
              the famous     now hardly known at all
              Joint Distribution Committee
traveled to Russia to save Jewish orphans
of which there were many
               though years later
               more   more   more
were made in another country and fewer were saved

Oh the year before I was born   
              my mother and my father and
              my grandmother called Babashka
had already been in the U.S. for seventeen years
              and had missed civil war
              revolution and the terrible pogroms
              of Kishinev     Berditchev
they had been present for the pogrom of 1905     in which
our Rusya     our brother our uncle waving the workers’ flag
              was murdered     the serious
              high-flying     bright red
              heavy     wind-enchanted
              workers’ flag.

Oh but in the very year I was born
              our uncle Grisha was sent away
              was shipped away from home
              to die in his own old country
brand-new Russia     oh the year that I was born
              no one told me any of this
              none of the above was mentioned
the word deportation was not said
              the word anarchist
              the word Palmer raid
the year that I was born was never spoken of
as the year of exile     of lifelong sorrow
that year was never mentioned to me
              by my father or my mother

except to say
ah     have we already told you how
              we were longing for you
              in our middle age
              after repeated requests
              with the others almost grown
one winter day and your father in
sleepy attendance in one of the
office rooms downstairs     and everyone else
waiting in the hall     into our household
              of secrecy
              silence and jokes
you were finally born