She could barely move her head the cancer climbed her spine reaching upward, clutching vertebrae reaching out, tendrils grasping tearing fragile organs. She would cry, but that would be an admission of defeat, a welcome to death.
I cried out for her, entreated our God for compassion that she might stand by her sons when they uttered the ancient words, by her daughter, adjusting the white lace veil, but he would not answer, drawn into catatonia, seeing severed limbs of children littering the streets of Sarajevo.
She clings tenuously to life as I cling tenuously to faith.
First appeared in Community of Poets Magazine Vol. 21,, 1999 and later in Legal Studies Forum 30:1-2, 2006
There are those occasional moments of clarity that appear without warning and are, as quickly, gone. We expect them less as we age and they oblige us by staying away. Children assume them, and are rarely surprised, as though they see them coming, need no warning and have no expectation anything will come of them. Expectations grow proportionally with age and patience diminishes apace. The child understands all of this with the same fascination she has for a soap bubble, as she watches each float away on the breeze of time.
The night is that bitter cold that slices easily through nylon and Polartec, makes child’s play of fleece and denim. The small rooms glow in the dim radiance of propane lights and heaters as the silver is carefully packed away in plastic tool boxes. The pinyon wood is neatly stacked in forty pyres, some little taller than the white children clinging to their parents’ legs, some reaching twenty-five feet, frozen sentinels against the star gorged sky. The fires are slowly lighted from the top, the green wood slowly creeps to flame as its sap drips fire until the pile is consumed. Half frozen we step away from the sudden oven heat. The smoke climbs obliterating the stars as the procession snakes from the small, adobe church, the men at its head firing rifles into the scowling smoke cloud. A sheet is draped over the four poles a chupah over the statue of the Virgin Mother remarried to her people. She weaves through the crowd, gringos, Indians, looking always upward, beyond the smoke the clouds against which it nestles, beyond all, for another faint glimpse of her Son.
As a child, a Jewish child no less, December was always a bit difficult. We had Channukah, which no Jew would dare claim grew solely to compete with Christmas, although we all knew that was precisely what had happened.
The problem was Christmas, but had nothing to do with Jesus, or the church or even its historical teachings about the supposed role we Jews played in that story, a role for which we had been paying for two millennia.
The problem was far more basic, and all you needed to do was drive down virtually any street in any city and it would be at once apparent. Christmas-celebrating homes were decked out in all colors of lights, while Jewish homes, those few who competed, were left with a palate of white and blue, or up to nine candles, and that was a guaranteed for sure last place finish in the December game.
My mother used to say, about most anything, “Stop, you’ve had your fill.” It was something she did by rote, dictated I was certain then, by some timer buried deep within her that brought forth the phrase like the beep of an oven timer to indicate whenever she was baking was certain to be just slightly underdone. I didn’t listen to her, of course, just paid the lip service of which children are the acknowledge masters. I still hear her voice echoing the phase as i walk through the park each morning stopping to gaze at whatever new has come into bloom, the patterns of the clouds over the hills to the south, the conversation of the birds who only think i don’t understand, but i never get my fill of the beauty before me.
What I want to tell her is this: it’s fitting, perfectly, that you who so assiduously hid the past from me, your past and mine, now bars your entry, refusing you even the briefest glimpse. You want so to grab onto it to have it carry you to a place removed from here by time and distance, where it is warm and most of the time, cozy. It is also fitting that you call out his name, as though he was in the yard pruning a tree, delaying dinner, the same he you cursed glad to have him out of your life and out of your house, you wished him dead so that you might call yourself a widow and share condolences with the other black draped women. You never mentioned the six months of foster care or the little sister who came and went so quickly when he had the audacity to drop dead on you one morning. This is what I would say to her, this is the curse I would place upon her but she no longer recognizes me, I am no more than a well dressed orderly come to remove her lunch tray.
I could never understand as a child why the moon was female, the sun always male, and most stars but ours had Arabic names. Now makes much more sense to me, the moon is never one to hog the sky and even when she commands more than her usual space, you only want to stare at her in rapture, while the sun is so vain you can stare only briefly and must look away, and he is as likely to hide or flee when he is most wanted, as a calming, steady presence. As for the names of all the others, they don’t sound like ours, and so we cast them off as aliens to our small, smug world