Jan Zlotnik Schmidt

 Click on a title to read:

  • icon Bio
  • icon A Gift: Kentucky Nursing Home—Many Years Ago



Jan Zlotnik Schmidt is a SUNY Distinguished Professor of English at SUNY New Paltz where she teaches composition, creative writing, American and Women’s Literature, creative nonfiction, memoir, and Holocaust literature courses. Her work has been published in many journals including The Cream City Review, Kansas Quarterly, The Alaska Quarterly Review, Home Planet News,  Phoebe,  Black Buzzard Review, The Chiron Review, and Wind. Her work also has been nominated for the Pushcart Press Prize Series. She has had two volumes of poetry published by the Edwin Mellen Press (We Speak in Tongues, 1991; She had this memory, 2000). Her chapbook, The Earth Was Still, was recently published by Finishing Line Press.

A Gift: Kentucky Nursing Home—Many Years Ago

It was a quiet late afternoon in early winter, close to Christmas. She was there to hear their stories, give them back their pasts. The fluorescent lights in the room were dim, and the shadows of their bodies were etched on the lavatory green walls. They circled her waiting, walkers aside, bodies hunched, gnarled fingers gripping their knees. There was a hush in the room.

        Then their stories:

        I ate burgoo, squirrel, possum. My daddy shot woodchuck, duck and made the stew.

        Another—the sap from the maple was yellow, honey gold.

        And then muttered words: There were coconuts in the trees we picked. A vision of thick palm leaves amidst red bud and magnolia.

        She took a breath. Nodded. Although used to dementia, she was startled. Resisted the urge to say really.

        Then an old man in denim overalls, straps loose on his shoulder bones, shuffled toward me, scratching his bearded chin.

        Here for you.

        He opened his palm. In it a greasy barbecued pork chop.

        Here a gift.

        She choked down laughter, looked down. Ashamed of her response.

        Oh thank you. Thanks so much.

        A Christmas gift for you.

        He stretched out his hand, and she put the chop in her flannel-lined pocket, grease staining her black pants and thigh. She held on to it for the rest of the session. Afraid to break the spell. Not wanting to leave his world. The worlds she was a stranger in. After all Christmas was a time for miracles.

        Or she was young then.