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.
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.
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.
We were told the average background color of the universe was turquoise. She said “that’s because a coyote ripped it from the mountains outside Cerrillos. But now they say it’s actually a shade of dark beige, drying mud colored.” It was a glitch in the software, the astronomers said. The coyote was unmoved.
She sits on the floor sorting coupons and roughly clipped articles on herbs and natural remedies. Occasionally she looks down at the hollow of her chest, at the still reddened slash left by the scalpel. “I’ve got no veins left. I hate those damn needles. If they want to poison me, I’ll drink it gladly. Socrates had nothing on me.”
I rub her feet as she slides into the MRI tube, and pull on her toes. “I can pull you out at any time.” I look at my wrist but there is no time in this room, checked at the door. Just the metronomic magnet. As she emerges she grabs my hand, presses it against my chest. I cradle her head and trace the scar across her scalp, trying to touch the missing brain matter, the tumor it nestled, pushing aside the brittle hair. “Lightly toasted,” she whispers with a weak smile. She hates white coats and stethoscopes. “They’re the new morticians.” They take her in small sections. She is a slide collection in the back of my closet, on the pathologists shelf. I want to gather them all and reassemble her. I want her to be a young girl of fifteen again.
Coyotes wander down from the Sandia hills. They gather outside the Santo Domingo Pueblo, sensing the slow seepage of heat from the sun baked adobe. There is no moon. They know each star. They stare into the darkened sky. They see only turquoise.
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
After all that has happened, after all of the changes tumbling one upon another, after breathing again new air, after ceding fear to hope when I sit down to write it all I have at the end is a small glass of snow in the middle of July.
It wasn’t lost on me, mother, that this year on the anniversary of death, you had been gone eighteen years, Chai in your beloved Hebrew, a lifetime for me, having never met you save in the half of my genes you implanted in me when I was implanted in you.
As you aged, alone, did you wonder what became of the closest family you had after your parents were interred in the soil of Charleston? Did you ever regret not knowing, or were you comfortable that the Jewish Family Service Agency would make a selection of which you would have approved had your approval been sought.
You have grandsons and greatgrandchildren who will mourn me, carry my memory forward, but know that I do the same for you, and you never aged a day from that one when the photographer took your college yearbook photo, a grainy copy of which is tucked in my wallet and heart.
10,000 origami cranes floated down over Tokyo each bearing the soul of one gone in nature’s recent fury. Each crane cried freely the tears flowing into the Sumida forming a wave that washes back to the sea, replenishing its loss. We, too, shed our tears and look skyward sad in the knowledge that with each passing day still more cranes will fill the sky more tears seep back to the still angry sea.