By Joan Gelfand
"I think there's something in the pain of the blues, something deep, that touches something ancient in Jewish DNA." —Marshall Chess, founder of Chess Records, producer of Chicago blues.
It was news to me that Jews took up the chore of indigo
Dyeing. It was messy, a job in which no noble
Deigned to engage. Fingers, forearms, clothes,
Stained from steaming vats.
"The stench," they complained.
And, holding their noses they
Created a tone so rarified women fought for the right to buy.
A logical progression, this blue
Manufactured by Jews who, as you knew,
Never felt at home—and still don't.
This blue, encoded in the bones, was royal, leaped centuries to David's harp
His poems of yearning for God and Jonathan's forbidden love.
These blues wept and bled, crept along diaspora routes
All the way to Dylan. Today, we mourn Pittsburgh Jews.
The same hands that mixed indigo, lent a hand to suffering wanderers, immigrants,
The displaced, murdered. They recalled their own treacherous crossings.
The blues. The Shoah. Dachau, Pittsburgh.
Indigo, David, bloodlines. Lines of blood
And still, an outstretched arm, an open hand.
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