First Edition: Masterpieces of the Intangible Heritage of Humanity

Masterpieces of the Intangible Heritage of Humanity

A United Nations designation

by susan cohen

Now that they’ve listed falconry and tango,

the Vimbuza Healing Dance and the Carnival of Binche, I invite

experts to sort through the babel that is my heritage.

Here’s a copper samovar minty with the thickness

my mother’s mother stirred into her English.

Here’s the intangible scent of aspiration nestled

in her stacking tables, their gold-tooled leather tops.

I know we did a shabby job of preservation,

that we dismissed brass candlesticks from Friday nights,

lost words right to left, forgot the very relatives

whose Hebrew names we carried.

Things go missing between countries, centuries, vans.

Items roll off tables, get swept into corners, chased into graveyards.

Only movers need account for what they drop,

not four brothers who each invents a new last name;

not a widow who ships her seven sons and daughters

to America one by one, each with as much choice

of destination as an envelope; not an immigrant

in Boston who crumples a damp telegram:


We own only pieces of the sad luggage they carried in their eyes.

I propose desperation as my heritage. Traveling light.

A tentative handshake with life.

I suspect anyone whose grip is firm, people

who announce they’re comfortable in this world.

I claim a family kind of knack for stops and starts,

for knowing things are bad but could still get worse.


I nominate my father’s jokes, his form of prayer.

I’m willing to sign an affidavit that we have a sense

of rhythm for the tap dance of survival

and that we love ideas and words, especially

in books. Here’s tikkun olam “repairing the world” –

tired, bloodied but still taught.


Susan Cohen lives in Berkeley, where she is a poet and journalist. She is the author of Throat Singing (WordTech/Cherry Grove Collections; 2012) and the 2011 winner of the Rita Dove Poetry Award, the Anderbo Poetry Prize, and an Atlanta Review International Publication Prize, among other honors. For more information: