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‘Why We Need You, Molly Picon’ — a poem


Because you were born two years before the birth
of the twentieth century and your mother sewed
for the theater, because your father was too brilliant

to work, blamed your mother for his two girls, so he moved
out, because you caught the eye of a drunk on a Philadelphia trolley—
a five-year-old dressed fancy for a contest you would win,

who swore you weren’t an actor, so you captured
his swagger through the car, and he swiped your hat,
collected two dollars in change from the crowd and bowed,

said you were going places. Because your mother, sticking pins
into the famous symphony conductor’s famous grandmother’s
costume, got you hired as a performer, and because you married

Yonkel young, Yiddish theater your life, you polished
your accent and they loved you for it in the old country,
because that’s how you became famous

in America, how you made Mamele and Yidl Mitn Fidl,
using villagers as extras two years before the Holocaust,
because everyone we watch, walking on the road or dancing

at a wedding, was soon murdered, because that’s what fascism
is good for, killing your actors and audience with beatings
and bullets and starvation and gassings,

because how do you carry on when your fans
are being decimated in real time, how else but to adopt teens
whose parents have been taken away, because what else

do you do when you can’t have children of your own,
what else can you do but visit the new Jewish state
that refuses Yiddish, as you must refuse Hebrew,

must count for them, how your Yente the matchmaker
stood for the missing, how they too drank tea with Toody
and Muldoon, tucked into your blintzes and gefilte fish

with Gomer Pyle, how they roared in the heavens watching
Sergeant Carter swoon over your gedempte flanken,
how we need you to feed us too, Molly Picon.

Abby Caplin is a poet and physician in San Francisco. Her poems have appeared in AGNI, Catamaran, Love’s Executive Order, Manhattanville Review, Midwest Quarterly, Salt Hill, TSR: The Southampton Review, Tikkun, and elsewhere. Among her awards, she has been a finalist for the Rash Award in Poetry, semi-finalist for the Willow Run Poetry Book Award, finalist for the Anna Davidson Rosenberg Poetry Award, and a winner of Soul-Making Keats Literary Competition.


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