Crumbs

by Janet Ruth Falon (Elkins Park, PA)

It was all orchestrated by Mother.
Moments before dark on the night before the first seder
she scattered breadcrumbs around her linoleum kitchen
but not leading anywhere, like Hansel and Gretl’s way home.

It was black inside like a fairytale woods, so
each person lit a candle, searching in its orange glow
for those deliberate crumbs
of day-old doughnuts or the last shtickel of challah
from Friday night.

Illuminated, you’d search the kitchen’s corners,
deep in the nooks and the slits of the crannies,
searching for the crumbs your mother planted.
You’d have a feather, or an old toothbrush –
its bristles splayed like a newborn giraffe’s legs –
and when you found something, you’d brush it
onto yesterday’s news, or in a little paper bag.

The next morning, you’d burn it,
letting the crumbs devour themselves to nothing —
like the marshmallow that falls off your stick
and into the fire,
leaving behind only a smell that reminds you
of something that used to be there, but is no more.

If you want to be thorough, to give it your all,
you hunt in your car for crumbs,
your desk, your locker if you’re a kid,
anywhere you might have left a trace of yourself, but
not quite enough to add up to a whole.

I like this ritual,
this Jewish spring cleaning,
getting rid of the crumbs in my life,
the pieces that don’t add up to much
and have gone stale.
Once upon a time, I loved someone
who wouldn’t let me eat a doughnut in his car
and, several decades later,
offered me crumbs of friendship.
At first I accepted them gratefully
— hungrily – but after a time
I realized that even an endless supply of crumbs
didn’t add up, and
didn’t satisfy me as much as one intact cookie,
(even a boring little ginger snap,
or some other intrinsically unattractive sweet.)

So I’m telling you
when I open the door for Elijah this year
I’m not going to let just any one in,
even if it’s Elijah’s guest, if he comes empty-handed.

And even when Passover has passed,
if I’m going to let you in,
you have to bring me a pound of those buttery bakery cookies
that look like pastel-painted leaves,
or better yet, an entire cake,
one you know I like.
You see, I don’t accept crumbs any more.

Janet Ruth Falon, the author of The Jewish Journaling Book (Jewish Lights, 2004), teaches a variety of writing classes — including journaling and creative expression — at many places, including the University of Pennsylvania. She leads a non-fiction writing group and works with individual students, and is continuing to write Jewish-themed readings for what she hopes will become a book, In the Spirit of the Holidays.

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Filed under American Jewry, poetry

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