My Grandmother’s Lighter Case

The one heirloom I treasure, a talisman, you would never have given me. I found it in a jewelry box in your dresser while we were cleaning out your apartment. A metal lighter case with two bits of turquoise, the only scrap of Santa Fe style I found in your home. It’s an anachronism, a piece of a city where you dwelt but never lived.

Everything else was old country, old country. Books in Hebrew, English, Spanish, Ladino and French; old photographs; your mother’s fur coat. There are heirlooms you would have approved of: the Sephardic cookbook you gave me, your wedding ring, now on my mother’s hand.

I don’t know if you even used the lighter case. I imagine you buying it on a whim one day on the plaza, smoking a single cigarette with a sense of satisfaction, and putting it away, forgetting about it. Now I cling to it with a little desperation, like I hear your voice in click-whoosh of a conjured flame.

I don’t see your eyes in shine of that thin metal. I see you in the ruffling feathers of a sparrow settling into her perch, in the frost crystals that crackle across my window. If you reincarnate, I hope you come back as a butterfly.

I heard that four generations of monarchs live and die in their forest sanctuary in Mexico before they turn north to make their great journey once again. Is any heaven superior? I wish you the beauty of that brief existence, a reprieve from all migrations, home, home, home.

I guess the lighter case gives me the suggestion that you did, once in awhile, open your eyes and behold the strange land where you spent your last years, the country where I grew up. I’m playing connect the dots; you can get here from there, however imperfectly. A sprout’s first tentative tendril, your wavering writing after the stroke, a fragile bridge from your world to mine.

Love could only seldom connect us. Vice, at least, is reliable.

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