clare burson

silver and ash

the world turns on a dime

at a small café
in a big city
sits a man with his life in his hands
watch the nod of his head
his eyes, heavy-lidded

cause the world turns on a dime

there’s a girl
with a smile
on a boat with her brother
sailing for a visit of a year
she says goodbye to her home
and all things familiar

cause the world turns on a dime

take a train
back and forth
over the border
with suitcases piled overhead
will the officer scowl and stop before passing
will he stop before passing

cause the world turns on a dime

at some point in the late 1870’s and after years of study and hard work, young yehezkel wainman (my great great grandfather) acquired all of the necessary papers to begin medical school. so one day, with papers in hand, he went to register with the appropriate authorities.

along the way, yehezkel stopped at a café for a cup of coffee or to meet a friend. while he was waiting, he fell asleep. maybe he had traveled from his home to register and was tired from a long journey. maybe his friend kept him waiting. either way, the coffee didn’t do the trick.

while he was sleeping, someone stole his papers. there were no other copies. crazy to imagine a world without xerox machines or computers . . . anyway, without the papers, there was no medical school. so back he went, to pushville, in kovne guberniia, and opened an inn.


a year or so ago, my aunt showed me an old photo album she had recently unearthed. in it were pictures of my grandmother and her brother from the first few years after arriving in the united states. the album begins on the boat taking them from england to new york city.

i was struck by how happy they looked, my grandmother and her brother, how carefree. my grandmother strolled arm in arm with a handfull of different young men. she was stylish, in heels and a smartly tailored coat. her stunning smile belied nothing of the grim reality: she and her brother left germany on november 9, 1938, the morning of krystallnacht, and said goodbye to their parents in the chaos of the leipzig train station.


elsewhere in this blog i have written about my grandfather’s escape from nazi germany: my grandfather, eric, was in retail or manufacturing – i forget which. anyway, planning his escape, he took the train to rotterdam and back again to berlin countless times, on ‘buying’ trips. on weekends, eric carted luggage full of his belongings to holland, where he left the contents with friends. he then would return to germany with empty suitcases. a dangerous proposition, what with nazi soldiers monitoring travel. these trips stopped when he was approached by a hostile officer inquiring as to why he was returning to berlin with an empty suitcase. somehow, granddaddy talked his way out of a potentially damning situation and made it out of germany shortly thereafter.



  Tatiana Antonenkova wrote @

I liked this song a lot. Where and how can I get it?

  clareburson wrote @

hi tatiana – didn’t catch this comment until now. so glad you like the song! the entire album will be released on rounder records this fall, and you’ll be able to purchase this song on-line, in stores, etc.

  SUsan Moran wrote @

Clare, Can I purchase sheet music for your song ‘The World turns on a dime’. I would like to sing it when Gerda Klein comes to speak at our church this month.

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