There was always breakage. You accounted for breakage. You measured breakage. You didn’t know when breakage would happen, but you knew it would. You hoped to minimize breakage, but not to totally avoid it. It couldn’t be done and there were those who relied on some level of breakage to make a living, who cleaned up after it when it happened, who logged it and measured it, who devised plans to avoid it. And there were those who had a hand in creating it, or seeing it through, but no one really liked matrimonial lawyers except other matrimonial lawyers.
ENTRY: March 23, 1992
Damn David, what was he thinking? I should be over at Shirley’s playing mah jongh, but no. Ma, you need some adventure in your life. Like I need hemorrhoids, I need this. Schvitzing like a fountain, I’m the queen of Mardi Gras. Who is he kidding? I’m a Jewish dishrag in a swamp, Fat Tuesday. For this I raised him, fed him, and bought him a fine education at the best goyishe schools money could buy. And he sends me to a swamp. Was I such a bad mother, I deserve this? Tea at Sibley’s, that’s where I should be, but No, “Ma, you’ll have fun.” If this is fun, God, bring on some suffering. Where did I go wrong to deserve such tsuris. Okay, so maybe there were days I didn’t change the diaper soon enough. He resents me so much he sends me here? Not a Jew in sight, and these fakokteh masks, I’m schvitzing my mascara off. And what kind of hotel has fans and no air. Local experience my tuchus. At least in the mountains the air moves. Here, bupkis. So maybe it was her idea, that princess he married. This is her way of getting even, for what, I don’t know. She sits around the “Club” all day while he breaks his back making a life. He would have been better off with that shiksah he dated in college, God should cut out my tongue. Shirley save me from this madness. Ethel, where the hell are you when I need you. And Saul, may it be really warm in the place you are going, you putz, for giving me a son like this.
ENTRY: August 18, 2005
So he calls this morning, out of nowhere, my David. He who’s allergic to the phone, how often he calls. David, whose diapers I changed, it seems like forever, the sheets till he was ten. His pediatrician had some long name for it, but I knew he was just too lazy to go to the bathroom during the night. It’s not like he had to wash the pishy sheets after all. And Lizzie hated handling the smelly things, but that’s what maids do I, had to keep telling her. So he calls this morning, this son of mine, this child who, God willing, will say to me before I’m deaf as a stone like that composer, before they plant me in some discount plot with no view, Ma, thanks for all you did for me. Like he even remembers! From him I get mishegas in heaps, and tsuris in unhealthy doses. And he calls in the morning? Who died, I say. And he goes silent. The last time he was silent he was under general anesthesia, with a tube down his throat. But now, he calls me for the first time in forever and then goes silent when I open my mouth. I want to say thanks for the bupkis, but I bite my tongue, mothers shouldn’t be sarcastic. Who died, I repeat. “Dad is dead,” he whispers. I say, “like I don’t know my father is dead, he died years ago, when you were still pishing your crib.” “Not grandpa,” he says, “dad. You know, MY FATHER.” Oh, I said, thanks for telling this to me. “The memorial service is Thursday in the Interfaith Chapel over at the U.” This I truly needed to know, I’m not at all sure why. To me, I buried Saul, the schmuck, years ago, nice and deep in my memory, didn’t want his head popping up. I buried the putz and now he’s got to go and die again, he couldn’t leave well enough alone. So now I’m supposed to stand there in black, which makes me look twenty pounds heavier than I am, and pretend to cry, like I’d risk getting tears on good Italian silk. Better they shouldn’t give me the shovel, I’ll dig him deeper still. And with the black lace for the head, like a bit of drek landed on my hair. So maybe that’s why he died, so I should stand around in black and everyone should stand around and whisper, just so I can hear, “look at Yetta, she looks so old, and has she put on the pounds.” God, why do you punish me so? Okay, so I made a mistake, I married the putz. You blessed me with a child, so what if he can’t remember my birthday and thinks Mother’s Day is sometime in October, when he recalls it at all. So now God, you think I haven’t suffered enough. Like my tsuris meter is reading empty and I need a refill? With a sense of humor like that God, it’s no wonder we had to invent the Borscht Belt. Okay, so we had a couple of decent years, and the Caddy was a nice touch, but why would he think I’d want red? You go figure. And a memorial service at the Interfaith Chapel, what’s with that, unless it’s cheaper than the Chapel at the Schul. So he thinks maybe he’ll pick up a shiksah in the next life, fat chance. He didn’t want his non-Jewish friends to be uncomfortable, David said. Like either of those goys could be uncomfortable in a room where there’s wine. Discomfort? They should have shared a bed with Saul, they want to know discomfort. You want sorrow? Feel some for the Levy’s, next plot over, Saul, now they have to put up with your snoring for all eternity. And me, all I got is this silent house with the toilet in the guest room that never flushes right.
First appeared here April 5, 2016
ENTRY: March 27, 1971
So, finally he’s here. Nine months, what God, another joke? Okay, she ate the damned apple, so stick it to the snake. But what would you know, another man. For six hours I’m lying there, dying from pain before the shmendrick walks in like some king, smiles at all the cutesy nurses, finally sees me and says “Yetta, you look good.” I look good and he should get a giant boil on his tuchus. God, me again, a couple more things: One, it would kill you if David, yes a good biblical name, to hell I was going before I’d agree to Morty like my Saul wanted, so it would kill you if you gave him some hair so he doesn’t look like an overripe peach with eyes? Two, so how about a new rule, labor before childbirth lasts only as long as the act of conception. I could live with a two minute labor, and that’s from when Saul starts thinking about it. And David’s lying on my belly (God, you can have the extra weight back now, I’m done with it) and he’s smiling at me and Saul says “can I hold him, you’ve been carrying him for nine months.” It’s a good thing I’m so tired or Saul would get a second bris, this time with a butter knife and no wine. So listen, God, I need some rest, but a tip for the next world you create. Skip the cockroaches, and if women have to suffer, hemorrhoids will suffice – we don’t need husbands too.
ENTRY: October 2, 1987
It’s Erev Yom Kippur, and this year Saul got the good seats. Just in front of that new, cut young Cantor, what a Kol Nidre this will be. And he’s single, not that I am. Memo to self, find out what Saul’s hiding with the good seats. I know he’s not schtupping his secretary, for that he’d have me made President of the Woman’s Club and maybe a seat on the Board. And God, what to wear. I could wear that new black silk, but it doesn’t go at all with my mink. God, could you maybe give me a hint what kind of shmatah Natalie Stein, you know her, big nose and too much eye makeup, is wearing tonight? Would that be too much to ask?
ENTRY: June 14, 1990
That putz, where does he get off saying he doesn’t love me, hasn’t for years. What? I didn’t cook his meals, sew buttons back on his shirts always popping off, always a size too small. This is how he repays me. He should breakfast with worms. It would be easier if there were another woman, maybe a bit younger, maybe a shiksa, that I could understand. But no, god forbid, just “I don’t love you anymore.” What a schmuck, and me – didn’t see it coming. So God, this is payback for what, exactly? That Yom Kippur I snuck a half a bagel before sunset. Have a heart, there was no cream cheese, much less lox. The kids are grown, I should be thankful for that I suppose, some nachos I’ll carry forward, that and the house the Lexus and the summer place, let him live in some apartment, may he someday rot in hell. What to do? First a good lawyer, heaven knows he’ll find some shyster. Second, two buttons left on each of his damned shirts. Let him poke himself with the needle, the prick. I’ll survive, it’s not like my life with him wasn’t tsuris heaped on mishegas. I’m better rid of him. I’ll show him, clean him out good, he’ll think prunes are second rate when I’m done with him. Oh God, am I such a bad person, you should make me suffer like this, you haven’t given me enough grief already? This is how You repay a mother and wife? God, you have some twisted sense of humor, but I’ll survive, just to prove You wrong too. Oy, if only God were a woman, what a world this could be.
First appeared here on April 4, 2016
when did youthful dreams
get consumed by
or simply abandoned
theirs a poor substitute
love once (a) given
rendered faint hope
worse, impossible dream
delusion? you want
to think not
want so much
bad for you
we know good
when we give it
none for you
What I want, no, need actually,
is to remember the smells of youth.
The images I can recall, but they are
aged pictures, run repeatedly through
the Photoshop of memory, and
cannot be trusted only desired.
The old, half ready to fall oak,
in the Salt Lake City park had
a faint pungency that lingered
even as I departed my body as
the acid kicked in, and drew me
back from the abyss hours later,
and my then wife, cradling our
first born in the hospital bed,
the scent of innocence and sterility
that neither of us dared recognize
as a foretelling of our denouement.
Those moments are lost in the sea
of time, washed away from memory’s
shore, but the smell of a summer oak
still promises a gentle return to self.
I mean, seriously, did anyone really think that the Spratt marriage would ultimately last? Sure, the first couple of years were imagined bliss. And sure, their dietary desires did help them avoid almost all waste. But that big a difference, even if only seemingly in eating habits, foretells differences in other areas of life. He was a neatnik, she not so much. He didn’t mind, originally picking up after her, but after a dozen years, let’s face it, it got old. And she was tired of his comments about her diet. Sure, she had put on a few pounds of late, but that was part of aging. And really, she didn’t look that bad, not old and shrunken like he did. People in glass houses and all of that. And she was on the damned Keto diet, so at least she was trying. She knew it could not go on, so she reached out to an attorney. And it was the attorneys who picked their carcasses clean.
The Good news about rom-coms
is that Hollywood (and occasionally
Paris, Lisbon and Madrid, but never Berlin)
crank them out endlessly, and each
contains that grain or two of truth,
like salt rubbed in the wound
of a failed first marriage, and the balm
of the discovery of true and abiding love.
The small pail of rom-com truths
is easily carried, sometimes off
a too strong wind, but it is never enough
to build a dune to hold back
the waves of emotion that attend
the most fragile and passionate
of all human relationships.
Yet we sit, smile, and watch hoping
that this one’s grain is the one that tips
the scale ever so slowly in our favor.
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.
First Published in Riding the Meridian 1999/1;2
As a child I would often stare up into the night sky. The stars, the planets, at least the two I knew I could see. My parents didn’t think my behavior odd, they assumed I wanted to be a scientist and explore the universe. I let them believe this. It was far easier than explaining that the alternative was to sit in the living room with them and listen to them bicker about something so minor that happened that day, with no escape from their earthly prison.
He hangs on the guest room wall,
simply framed in black, adjoining
his more ornate, Cheshire-
cat smiling sister. He isn’t brooding
really, there is just a certain needful
sadness, as he stares out, imagining
how he pictured things would be,
how they were supposed to be,
realizing here, they never were,
never will be, and although there is
no failure, no blame, he wears it
as his personal armor, still
so easily pierced by dreams.