HOLY ARMY

1.

A millennium ago
the army of the lord
dressed in mail and rode
proud steeds across
barren lands, swords
flashing in a red roasting sun
washed in the blood
of the infidels.
They stopped for prayer
blessing the bodies
left along the dirt track
left by their hooves,
a common grave
for common faces
differing only in the color
of skin and hair.

2.

In this millennium
the army of the lord
slouches outside the mall
rubbing hands against
the chill, the bell bleating
against the night,
a barren moon reflects
off the red kettle.
As they locked the doors
he pulled the flask
from his hip pocket
and thought of the bodies
passing by, swerving
to avoid him, and the
forty dollars he would get
would warm
his frozen skin.

First Appeared in Lullwater Review, Vol. 9, No. 1, 1998. Reprinted in Legal Studies Forum, Vol. 29, No. 1, 2005.

THREE MORE TRANSCRIPTS OF ENTRIES FROM THE TAPE RECORDED JOURNALS OF YETTA GOLDSTEIN

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?

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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

LIGHTS

For eight days each December
they call out to me as the flame
of the candles flickers out,
“Remember me” they say in unison,
“remember me”, in the voice of the child,
an old woman, in Yiddish,
in Polish, German, Czech, Latt.
I want to remember but I cannot see
a face reduced to ash, blended
into the earth of a farm field outside Treblinka,
the winter wheat remembers.
I want to remember but I cannot stroke
the head of a young man whose bones
mingle with his brother’s, countless others
sharing a mass grave, his skull
and brains painting the trunks
of a nearby stand of trees.
I want to remember but cannot hear
the sweet tenor of the cantor
whose tongue was torn from his mouth
for refusing to speak of the tunnels
beneath his once beloved Warsaw.
I want to remember the lavender scent
of the young woman, fresh from the showers
but there is only the stench
of putrid flesh and Zyklon,
of bodies crammed into the converted boxcar.
I want to remember the taste
of a warm challah on Shabbat eve
that she lovingly shaped
into a braid and pulled from the oven,
but her arms were neatly removed
by the surgeon before she
was cast naked into the Polish winter.
I want to remember them all,
their names in a memorial
but they are only numbers
tattooed onto endless arms.
The candles die and their voices
fall silent for yet another year.

First Appeared in Rattle, Issue 7, Summer 1997. Reprinted in Legal Studies Forum, Vol. 29, No. 1, 2005.

A LESSON TO TEACH

This is what 
I would tell my sons:
“You came from 
an ancient people,
a heritage of poets
and tailors, or thieves
and blasphemers,
of callous men
and slaughtered children.
I would give you these books,
written by God, some have said,
although I am doubtful
but driven by Erato, without doubt.”

This is what 
I would tell my sons:
“I didn’t go to war —
there were so many options
and I chose one where
my feet would touch
only Texas mud,
where the only bullets
were quickly fired
on the rifle range.
I wasn’t one of the 56,000.
I didn’t come home
in a body bag.
But I do stop at the Wall
each time I visit D.C.
and say farewell
to those who did.”

This is what
I would tell my sons:
“You have never known
the hunger for a scrap of bread
pulled from a dumpster,
you have never
spent a night on a steam grate
hiding under yesterday’s
newspapers from
the rapidly falling snow.
You never stood
nervously at the waiting room
of a dingy clinic
waiting for a young,
uncaring doctor to announce
that antibiotics would likely
clear up the infection
but you should avoid
any form of sex
for a couple of weeks.”

This is what
I would tell my sons:
“You come from 
a heritage of poets.”

First published in The Right to Depart, Plain View Press 2008

IN HIS IMAGE

He said the assignment is
an easy one for this class,
write a piece, poem or story,
your choice, but focused 
on a single metaphor. Oh,
and to make it interesting,
that metaphor should be
the last pet you owned or
currently own, and if you’ve
never been blessed with a pet,
use an ocelot or a lynx.

How hard could it be, I thought,
I have a cat, she will be 
my metaphor, and so I sat,
picked up pen and paper
and absolutely nothing came.

The cat watched me, heard me
mutter under, I thought, 
my breath, then gently mewed:
“Cats cannot be metaphors,
you should know that, for we
are unique in nature, unless
of course you wish to write
about God, for we know that we
were created in his image.

ANGELS

He says he cannot believe in angels
because he has never seen one.
I do not believe in his sort of angels, but not
for lack of visual confirmation, rather
that I live in a world that now
is so deeply in need, that an angel
might be our last, best hope, but
the scope of angelic miracles is
not likely wide enough to encompass
the utter disaster which we have created.

I tell him that I do believe in angels,
that I have met several in my life,
and scowl when he laughs so that
he must consider that I am serious,
and then he asks what an angel
looks like, so he will recognize one
when and if he ever sees one.

I advise him that you don’t have
to search all that hard, that you merely
need to be aware, and watch the face
of the baby when you stop and coo
at him or her as they lie in their stroller,
staring up at the always welcoming sky.

NEATNESS COUNTS

Ice, he said, is clearly an invention
of Satan, the ice cube a scaled down
version of that corner of hell of which
no one ever speaks, so little known.

And stop and think, we got by well
for eons without a cube of ice, unless
with blade we chipped it from
a nearby glacier or left water out
in the dead of winter, which never
worked all that well in much of the world.

Whiskey, that was one of our best
innovations, one of which we are
rightfully proud, one which we
have practiced for untold generations.
We’ve been sipping it and drinking it
from the word go, and each culture
has come up with its own version,
and it is only recently that the devil
gave us the means of denigrating
one of God’s greatest gifts to us.

God, mother told us, prefers things
neat, as they were intended, so clearly
ice is the Devil’s work. Turn away!

Q.E.?

Religion, he said, is inherently illogical
and the older the religion, the more illogical
it becomes, accreting absurdity over time.
A corollary of this proposition is that
the more organized a religion claims to be,
the more its spirituality is buried under
rules and regulations which only illustrate
the principal proposition set forth above.
Humans create religion not to explain
the unexplainable but to justify ignorance
and their unwillingness to search and risk
finding answers that conflict with their
desired view of life and decomposition.
But, he concluded, do not for a second believe
that atheists have it right, for theirs
is a religion of utter illogic and rigidity
certain of the nonexistence of an idea that they
believe they can demonstrate, but have not,
and they will be damned if they will stop trying.

WINTER MEMORY

As a child I know the winters
must have been milder, as it
was never too cold to have my parents
take is to Sheridan Park where
my father would drag the old
wooden toboggan up the chute
adjacent to the stairs as we ran ahead,
and smile as we hurtled down
seeing how far we could go
across the snow packed runway.

After an hour, when our hands
were blue, the mitten clips
long since defeated, he would
once again smile as we drove
to Louie’s for a foot long and
a couple of orders of curly fries.

I’m thinking the weather changed
right about the time my parents
packed off to Florida, as if God
had given them some Noah-like
warning that winters would soon
get ugly, or maybe He was just
trying to help Detroit, since my step-
siblings had to have certain cars,
while I struggled through winter
in the north in my leaky, rusting Opel.

I SPEND THE EMPTY HOURS

I spend considerable time thinking
about what it is that I am, what is I,
whether Descartes’ God or Spinoza’s
could possibly exist, or must if I can have
meaning beyond self-reflection, needing
a godly mirror, and image reflected.
Cogito, on what basis can I draw that conclusion
what logical proof, carefully constructed will
not fall under the weight of the axiom, cogito cogito
but of what? Keys that spit words that fade
under a misplaced finger, she caught in the web
twisting, unable to pull free, staring at
an approaching holiday of praying forgiveness
Vidui, as though to posit God is to validate
emotions, control impulses which leap synapses
and flit and fade, I have sinned and transgressed
I have violated laws and statutes and I beg
forgiveness that I might live, this I, this cogito
who has no external reference save God
which makes all things real, all illusion.
It is comforting knowing in death the soul is
carried on, thought lingers, or does it cease
such that I am not for I think not, yet why should
I fear, for when it is done, I will not have been
save as a reference point, a linchpin from which
may hang ornaments of a life, a tidy sum.

Publsihed in These Lines, Fall 2020
https://theselines.org/these-lines-1.1-fall-2020.pdf