Schmaltz

Henry Shukman

Chicken soup is magic, here’s the proof.
Maybe if I’d opened the window a crack
it would never have happened. But late
in the war, I tip the lid to let the steam off

while the broth reduces to clear gold.
Here’s my stove up one end and on the table
at the other there’s the new baby, the seventh,
the one we didn’t want but he was a boy,

after six girls you don’t complain.
There’s no place for a baby like a warm kitchen,
plus he’s wrapped in my husband’s
army coat, a proper little bundle.

The Germans find our house by mistake,
drop one right through the roof.
It’s the new kind that drips and where it drips
it burns. The girls are all up the road thank God

at their auntie’s. I dash into the kitchen,
find a sight. Shouldn’t have left the stove,
is my first thought. The room’s that smoky
I didn’t see the fire was up the other end.

Put my hand straight in the flame.
There he is, snug in his basket, snug all right,
Not a squeak or whimper from him,
I don’t stop to think what that means.

I pull him out and make for the door.
Outside, I hold him away to get a look
and my whole front’s stained with grease.
I wipe his cheek, the skin smooth as ever.

Even with our house pouring smoke behind me,
a pillar of flame leaping from the roof,
I can smell what it is on him: schmaltz.
While the room filled with fire he’d been anointed,

and it saved him. No one explained it.
Even the doctor couldn’t understand.
He’s a plump man our Ruby, always has been,
and loves a bowl of chicken soup with matzoh,

I get some ready whenever he comes.
Oh mom, he says, not chicken soup again,
he’s only joking. Yes it is, I say,
you ought to know what’s good for you.

He’s an accountant, offices off Regent’s Park,
drives a BMW just like half his sisters,
the ones that didn’t throw themselves away.
Wanted to be a fireman but wasn’t tall enough.

Changed his name though. Cohen to Owen.
Says it helps in today’s Britain. I’m running out
of breath, all this talking, what I’m saying is,
I had a miracle in my life, never underestimate
a good bowl of soup.