A woman’s purse is inviolable territory
she tells me, and no man dare look within
unless invited and that is as unlikey to happen
as a man is to fully understand a woman.
What she doesn’t say, but what time has
demonstrated to me repeatedly, is that
within that small space is the solution
to most of life’s pressing problems, a balm
for small emergencies, and a truth, the release
of which would loose upon those proximate
the sort of shock that Pandora only promised,
and I have more than enough problems of my own.
She asks what I keep in my over-fatted wallet
and I tell her it is not money, but thoughts
that haven’t come to fruition, and dreams
unrealized because they defy reality.
So, she says, your wallet is full of the stuff
that gets you through a day, that give you
hope for the next, and that marks your
ever present failure of irrational dreams.
Its plump, dusty-white feathered body
sits atop the pond like an inverted
iceberg, as the lindens fringing the field
shed their seeds onto the hardened soil.
The swan lumbers across the surface
with no particular urgency or direction
slowed by the entropy of a late August afternoon,
the laughed shouts of children
plunging headlong to dinner,
diverted to bathrooms
for the cursory sprinkling
of unholy water,
the beast drags its haunches
straining against the gravity
of too many
moments pecking the grains
cast at it by the children.
Its head breaks the surface of the pond
and inches downward in through the green
glaze until snatching its target
at the end of the allotted moment,
like the child’s toy with its colored fluid,
it swings back up on its axis,
and inches away, its dive complete.
The young boy climbs gingerly aboard
the rusty metal seat, a lattice of
peeling enamels, telling the years
as rings of trees, and drops the bar
across his lap, a wave to cousins
denying the tingle in his bowels
as the wheel begins its rhythmic
interrupted rotation, and the sky
summer gray, approaches.
The wheel turns slowly,
the cacophony of little girls
rings false against the fading note
of a carousel.
He rocks gently, mindful not to lean
into the baleful eye of the operator,
and glances down counting those
awaiting their moments until
he hears the grating of metal
and he slides to the side,
as his cage
begins to dangle, the bar greased
by the sweated palms of a rider,
and then the shriek of agony
torn loose from somewhere beneath
his riveted eyes
fixed on the asphalt
rushing to break him.
He lifts his arms out
for the genetic memory of flight.
He strikes with the sound of the plastic
barrel striking a pier, his dive complete.
First Appeared in Twilight Ending, May 1999.
I have two mothers, now both dead,
I have three fathers, one unknown, one buried
outside Washington and one lost
in a corner of his shrinking mind.
I am growing older, I have aches
and clicks and pops and groans,
which each remind me that I
am aware and alive and that
isn’t a bad way to start a new day.
As a child I lived next door to a calendar,
but not the kind mother always hung
on the wall next to the refrigerator, two,
one for school events and the obligations
attendant on parenthood and the other
for holidays, and adult social events,
the important one she’d say when
she thought we couldn’t hear.
My calendar was Mrs. Kanutsu,
the woman next door, or more accurately
the aromas that would waft from her kitchen
foretelling the Greek Orthodox holiday
about to arrive, only a few hours
after she insured that I approved
of her latest creations, all of which
were replete, redolent with spices
my mothers would never dare use.
I liked Christmas most of all, even
though I was wholly Jewish then,
for it meant she would let me help
make the phyllo, knowing I would
soon enough be rewarded with
a large piece of baklava that strangely
never seemed to make it all the way next door
It wasn’t until I hit
middle age, which on my scale
will allow me to live past 100,
that I discovered that cats
are Celtic deep in their hearts.
Our cat, she who adopted me
and forced her then owner
to marry me, like it or not,
was in love with the tin whistle
and the uilleann pipes playing
had her in my lap, unmoving.
But she had her Buddhist side
as well, sitting zazen for hours,
longer if accompanied by
shakuhachi flutes. She said
that cats were discerning,
were connoisseurs of music
loved cello, viola and violin
but barely tolerated the bass.
It was why, she said, all
the great composers wrote
for the higher strings.
And, she would add,
as for dogs, well they
loved country music most,
reason enough for pity.
The hardest age by far
is the one where you are stuck
in the middle, children below,
parents above, and utterly no
hope of escape from the vise.
Things your mother could do effortlessly
now seem impossible for her, and those
things now need doing immediately.
Your children, ever wise at creating
novel approaches to anything they want
in life regardless of your opinion,
suddenly cannot perform the simple tasks
they once could, more so if the task
takes them away from whatever
is their pleasure of the moment.
It is this middle period where
you cease to live, at least
to live fully, taken with tasks
above and below, and only
in the rare spare moment
can you contemplate the tasks
you will no longer be able to do
as soon as your children cease
to be a burden and can be one
Aunt Tzipporah hated her name,
detested it really, came closer to the truth.
“What the hell were my parents thinking?”
she said, “like being Jewish in West Virginia
isn’t going to be hard enough.
On a good day I got away with being Zippy,
but you try spending your Junior year in high school
hearing “Hey Zipper” or having some jerk
come up to you, cigarette dangling
from his lip and saying, “hey, Zippo,
got a light?” and you can guess
why getting out of state to college,
any college, was something I wanted so badly.”
I told my aunt I fully understood,
and she smiled, “I guess you do.
It couldn’t be a party going through
life with the name Shadrach Shamnansky.
I’d like you to tell me
about the village in which
you grew up, and how odd
it must have been for you
to have met my grandfather
so far from any village
in the heart of Lithuania.
I suspect you left
with your parents, exhausted
by pogroms, exhausted
by the Jewishness
that to them defined you.
I’d love to know
about my mother who
I never got to meet,
of your eight children,
but like you, she
is silent and all
I have left
is a small photo
and a volume
of imagined memories.
The pelican hasn’t been around
for a couple of days, and we miss
his akimbo dives into the pond,
surfacing and throwing his head back
to show he’s swallowing his catch
even though we suspect some of the time
he caught nothing at all, but knowing
we’re as gullible an audience
as he is likely to find any time soon.
We hope he is off breeding somewhere,
making little pelicans that will
be able to entertain us next fall
when we return, birds of our own sort,
not snowy egrets but snow birds nonetheless.
We don’t want to know any more
about the mating ritual, some
things ought to be private.
We learned that painful a few years
ago, when my brother thought it
was important we see thoroughbreds bred.
We prefer our breedings like
good French films, suggestive
but ultimately leaving it
to our memory, like so much of our youth.