Aunt Lily and Frederick the Great

Aunt Lily and Frederick the Great Poem

After the war, she painted her walls
a French blue, pale as the watered
blue silk of her eyes, filled her rooms
with cream and gold-leaf chairs,
and when she raised her porcelain cup
with pinky arched and blew the word
“Limo-o-o-gges” across the lip,
that made a tender wind, as if a host
of cherubs rafted through the room.
Mad for all things French,
She’d never read Voltaire,
went straight from the Academy
of Typing in the Bronx to work
for Mr. Hyman at the J.D.C.
In 1945 she went to Paris—ah, the city
was a shambles then, American cigarettes
were currency, her Yiddish
far more useful than her French
for work among the refugees. History
was hell, she learned, but life
moved on. She purchased
silver fruit knives, teacups, pastel
figurines, and tottered home on platform
wedgies to attend the rattle and attack
of morning trucks along Third
Avenue and to receive us kindly
when we came to call—in short,
to lead a life not sans souci
(for there were deaths,
and loneliness), but of her own
design. You’d never guess
King Frederick and my aunt
would have so much
in common. Both were short,
bilingual, stubborn, confused,
enlightened in some ways, benighted
in others, tyrannical, clever, benevolent,
fierce. Like Frederick, she flourished,
like Frederick, she died. She was tiny
and great and is buried in Queens.

Jean Nordhaus
first published in T

Aunt Lily and Frederick the Great

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