WHISPERED SONG

“Oh, Woman who walks in beauty like the night
I am a friend who is distant and silent.” — Dineh Wind Prayer

We always sat
on the back bench seat
of the Collins Avenue bus,
stared out the big window,
noses pressed
against the cool glass,
stared at the procession
of stucco hotels,
simple neon signs,
lines of cars and
bathing suits.
My mother working
late into the night and
Beck, eternal friend
who buried her children
only to become a surrogate
mother to an orphaned son.

Beck would stroke
my forehead. At night
when the room was lit
by lightning, she cradled me
shielding my eyes
with sagging breasts
that had nursed three
daughters into womanhood,
later into the grave.

Beck whispered to me
in a mother’s voice —
my mother spoke
in another voice. I
stroked her wattled arms
watching the pouch
of skin swing gently.
Looking at my mother now
it is often Beck’s lips I imagine
kissing my cheek, “Aunt”
Beck, and not my mother
who still casts
disapproving glances
at failed attempts
at machismo, Beck’s
sparse gray hair
that rests on my shoulder.

I was Beck’s last
surviving child
a fourth daughter.
I am the last
to say Kaddish
to remember her
at Yizkor.

In the early morning
mirror, my eyes slowly
ceding sleep, my lover’s
sweat still beaded on
my arm, her taste lingering,
I see my beard fall away,
my skin is smooth, childlike,
my chest hair fades
replaced by nascent breasts,
testicles recede, hair grows
long, auburn, Beck’s face
as it once had been,
as it appeared
in the faded photographs,
stares back at me.

I am mute, wanting
her to draw me against
her shoulder, to make me
again – for a moment –
the fourth daughter
and not the son
she never had.
Next week I will go
to the aging schul,
I will sit among
the women, away
from dovening men, head
covered by the tallit.
I will sing
Kaddish to her.


First Appeared in Vent, Issue 1, 2003.

ESQUIRE

Even as a young child
I imagined being a lawyer
was a noble profession, spent
Sunday evenings in front
of the old Motorola TV watching
Perry Mason stride up to the rail,
stare into the witness’ eyes, with
Paul Drake smiling in the first row.
I tried to make my younger brother play Paul
but he was surly even at five
and said it was Hamilton Berger or nothing.
He never did get that Burger
never won a case, and the moment
I came to the real that realization, I knew
when it came to play acting in my world
it was the perfect role for my brother.
I’ve retired from practicing law now,
never tried a criminal case anyway,
and years ago gave up seeking
anyone quite like Della Street.

OPTION ONE

Some, mostly of us, said we
were the chosen people, as if
wandering the desert for 40 years
was the grand prize, okay of Sodom
got the runners-up gift.
I didn’t buy it then, don’t now,
even after I sold my membership
as the price of final freedom.
No, we were, still are, the people
of the candle and oil lamp,
the latter far too sooty these days,
playing hell with our smoke detectors.
Two every Friday, and Hanukkah
is good for forty-four, and on
the anniversary of a death, just one,
but that to burn a full 24 hours.
So while our butchers fatten their thumbs
for the scales, and our bakers
tell their wives they won’t be home for dinner
on Thursday nights, busy braiding dough,
it is our candle makers who have
chosen us as their kind of people.

D’ACCORD

There is a reason for this
as there is is a reason for most things
whether we like it or not, I tell my son.
He gives me that smile that says
“I do not agree at all with that,
but you are my father, and so
I won’t disagree,” but I know
he means this only as
a Japanese hai, yes, I understand,
but I will take it as hai, I agree.
I don’t speak Japanese,
neither does my son, but we
both know that if we
were right now in France
the one thing he wouldn’t
be saying is d’accord, father or no.

NOUS SOMMES ICI

The question, of course, is which
is Frankenstein, which his monster
a chicken and egg problem
that invites debate, denies solution.
They say, of course, it is you –
We sent you Lafayette, never assuming
quelle catastrophe would grow from our gift.
Freedom doesn’t make you a God
but somehow you never learned that
too busy writing rules for the rest of us to ignore.
Quite to the contrary, we say,
we sacrifice mightily to redeem you,
buried our own dreams to build
a foundation for yours, twice, and you
repay us not with the gratitude
we so deeply deserve from you,
but with derision, and that, only
if you are feeling beneficent. You are
the epitome of arrogance we each say
and we know that it is the glue that binds us.

THE CEMETERY, AFTER THE BATTLE

They come to her in the dark
the voices whisper, she hears them
from behind half lidded eyes
they sound like the children
that once ran across the open field
chasing the ball, a too slow bird
a mortar shell whose fall
outpaced them all, left them
scattered, shattered, marked
by simple wooden crosses
that were taken for heat.

She strains to answer them
the words thick on her tongue
clogging her mouth
like a gas soaked rag
stuck into the thin neck
of a bottle, lit, they explode
inside her mind, the shrapnel
tearing at her eyes
red, only red, the sky
seems aflame yet the sun
has long since set
behind the smoke of the fires.

They hover around her
gently touching her cheek
like a demented butterfly
seeking nectar long dry
she caresses the thick scar
were her breast once stood
proudly, but there is no feeling
only numbness of too many bodies
strewn on tables, across chairs
which are broken to feed the flames
which dance away into the snowy night.

She can see their masks
hiding sneering lips
spitting vitriol for what once was
she curses them, faceless
her eyes pressed shut
by their tiny fingers, kneading
the soft dough, pulling it
taught, letting it snap back
released by the sated mouth
of the devil child who runs
laughing up the hill
chasing a dragonfly
into the dawn.


First Appeared in Arnazella, 2000.