He always paid passing attention to the coconut palms. It wasn’t that they were so attractive as to merit attention. Quite the contrary, they were remarkable ordinary as palms go. But he knew that if the drivers here didn’t get him, a ill-timed coconut leaping from a palm would be pleased to do the job. And that was just too horrid a way to go. He could see the obit: “Killed by an angry coconut whose natural gravitational journey he had the temerity to interrupt.”
He often comes to me in dreams. In most he is faceless, but intently present, speaking in a voice I instantly know, nothing like mine and totally mine. On occasion his face appears, blurred, as if seen through a scrim, back-lit, vague, an actor in some film I have seen, but yet not that person, that character. For a while I saw my own face, but I knew that was just my wishful mind filling in a gap which has yet to be filled, knowing that it likely never will.
We sat at the table, sucking the last of the djej from the bones piled along the edge of the platter. “I played for seven years” he said, “under Tilson-Thomas and later Rudel, bad years those, I sat two rows back second from the stage edge.”
He was unremarkable, forgettable until he nestled the violin under his chin. Balding even then the fringe of hair clownish, lacking only a red nose. At the old metal desk he struggled over applications for insurance policies, forever asking if he had the premiums calculated right, stumbling over the pitch, dreading the word death, preferring to talk of his bow dancing across the strings. He sold just enough policies to make his monthly draw and generate an override commission to help pay our mortgage but he would, my father said, never make much of a career in insurance. When I sat in the office on the old leather sofa he asked me to marvel that an old man, bitter and stone deaf, could hear so clearly, alone in a small room. I listened politely, waiting until he might be distracted and I could return to neatly arranging the pink sheet between the whites feeding it carefully through the rollers, and slowly peeling it back to reveal the dark sepia copy.
He sits on the metal bed fingers bent into talons and cringes at the screech of the walker dragging along the hall. He wrestles with the radio knob and hears the strains of the concerto as a tear runs down his cheek and he waits for the nurse to change his incontinence pad.
First Appeared in Licking River Review, Issue 28, Winter-Spring 1996-1997.
In this place there is a fatted, sacrificial silence. It is the large Jewish Cemetery nestling the road where Maryland and the District are loosely stitched together. It is a small plot goldenrod dirt outskirting Lisbon.
This ground is sacred not for the blessing of one who has taken the tallit of holiness. The sanctity of this ground leaches from the simple pine boxes that return with the body to the soil.
The stones, mostly simple with neatly incised Hebrew inscriptions are all blank to me, worn smooth by memory denied.
I place my ear carefully to each, wanting to hear a voice, a fractured whisper that will resonate in the hollow spaces.
I pass by those with shared names for if he or she is here each must share the isolation they willed me. I look at the faces of passing mourners — none resemble the morning mirror.
I grow tired of the search, sit in the paltry shade of the ricinus plant knowing we both will be gone by sundown.
First Appeared in Legal Studies Forum, Vol. 29, No. 1, 2005
She says if you could only peel back the photograph, you could read the entire story that lies beneath. It is deeper than the image below which it lies trapped, and wider, imbued with a meaning the image could not capture, just as, she says frowning, there are no words for parts of the picture, a symbiosis that we of unitary senses cannot unite. This one, pointing to a crucifix, shows him where he ought to be, the pain, his pain apparent, but so much deeper than any image or sculptor’s hand can fashion. Undeserved pain, not by sacrileges, by rebellion but he would understand it, he would revel in it, for he was the greatest rebel and he would easily peel back the picture in step wholly into the story beneath.
You want to yell at him, tell him to stop, that it is too soon, that he is not ready, cannot be, won’t be for months to come, but you know he will not listen to you standing, gesticulating, imagining a stone in your hand, shattering the glass walls, the crackling gaining his full attention causing him to realize what is so very obvious to you. But you cannot do so, wishes aside, there are no stones to be found within the house in which you stand and if there were, there still are very clear rules against your throwing one.