Peter Neil Carroll

Peter Neil Carroll’s poem “Borscht” appears in his latest collection of poetry, Talking to Strangers (Turning Point Press, 2022). Later this year another collection of poems, This Land, These People: 50 States of the Nation, which has won the Prize Americana, will also be published. Earlier titles include Something is Bound to Break and Fracking Dakota. He is also the author of a memoir, Keeping Time (University of Georgia Press, 1990). He lives in Belmont and is currently Poetry Moderator of Portside.org.

Poem on Belonging

BORSCHT

My grandpa Izzy adored borscht, slurped
the soup, steaming or cold, let the red juice
spread on his mustache and licked his lips.

Borscht. A Russian scholar once advised me
never to underestimate its power to make
a community, and in honor of Izzy I bought

the scholar’s book about an obscure laborer
in Tsarist Russia, depicting the daily lives
of a passionate people unknown to history.

They might be characters of literature, the stuff of
Tolstoy, Turgenev, Dostoyevsky, yet not fictional,
revealing the dreams of ordinary men, women and

the making of working-class consciousness. They
drink too much, eat too little, get sent to prison,
yet he gives them something they never expected,

maybe even more than he imagined. I see them drinking
tea in filthy rooms, fired by factory foremen demanding
payment or sex from women workers, and confused by

students who try to uplift them with books they can’t
understand. He’s given them immortality, assuming
someone like me reads his book. His story tells much

less about my grandpa, a Jew in old Russia, lacking
even the slim benefits of Russian nationality. Refusing
discipline of factory work, he became an itinerant glazier,

carried his goods on his back, worked outdoors without
a timeclock in all weather and loved the glass he cut
and framed for all the light, he said, it brought to life.

Copyright © 2022 by Peter Neil Carroll. Used with permission of the author.

Read Peter Neil Carroll’s ecopoems, “The Mountain Top” and “Appalachia“.

Find Peter’s books in the library!

Something is Bound to Break (2019)
The Odyssey of the Abraham Lincoln Brigade (1994)
Keeping Time: Memory, Nostalgia, and the Art of History (1990)