THE FINAL? TRANSCRIPTS OF ENTRIES FROM THE TAPE RECORDED JOURNALS OF YETTA GOLDSTEIN

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.

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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

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.

GRAMMATICALLY APART

What sets us apart
from other species
has little or nothing
to do with self-awareness
and everything to do
with parts of speech.

The birds outside
my window shun labels,
think only of eating,
mating, flight, of going
and arriving, of being.

They know nothing of birth,
do not fear death, for it
is merely a label they cannot
accept or understand.

It is left to our kind
to need to label, to define
every small and large thing
for we sense our existence
and must rely on two things,
for we knew that we live
a world of pronoun and noun.

TAILORING

My adoptive
grandfather 
could take bits
of cloth, 
a needle, thread
and with magicly
gnarled fingers
create a garment
fit for royalty, 
to be worn
by the old woman
living 
in the walkup 
down the street.

I take words
bits of ideas
and hope,
and with 
manicured fingers
create what
I can only hope
passes for poetry
to be ignored
by those
living nearby
in my suburb.

DIALOGUE

S:         What are you doing, for heaven sake?
H:        Isn’t it obvious, I’m searching
for Nirvana, for enlightenment.
S:         You silly fool, it’s right behind you!
H:        (turning suddenly) It is not,
I would certainly see it.
S:         You might think so, but
it is still right behind you!

H:        But why, tell me, can’t I see it?
S:         Because you’re looking for it
always peering outward,
but if you look inward
behind your eyes, you
won’t be able to miss it.

EXISTENCE

I imagine I am the creator
I imagine I am the created
and I am the creator
and I am the created
I am both, I am neither.

I exist because I think I exist
so I have created myself,
just as you exist to me  because
I think you exist, I am creator.

I say I can touch you so you
must exist, but I touch with my mind
so I cannot prove your existence
only the thought of your existence.

When I die, I will no longer exist,
and you will no longer exist
as far as my you is concerned
and that is the only you I can know.

MEMORY

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.

Reprised from March 31 2016

RED DOT

I have visited countless galleries,
stared at or shielded my eyes
from all manner of art, but
I always read the plaques
affixed to the walls, name
of artist, of work price,
the relative  amount speaking
to the financial state of the gallery.

I actually care very little about
the name of the artist other
than as a historical reference,
for the piece has already spoken
or remained in total silence.

I do glance at the title
and wonder why so many 
artists, of infinite creativity,
when it comes to words
are struck mute, and tell me
their work is simply “Untitled,”
which for me is but another 
way of saying, unpurchasable.

IN CHORUS

Deep in a small forest,
a murmuring brook reflects
the shards of sun sliding
through the crown of pines,
its whispered wisdom
infinitely more clear
than the babbling of men
holding the reins firmly
in distant cities of power.

The birds know this well,
sing of it in chorus, nature’s
music, jazz scatting that
the graying clouds absorb,
an always willing audience,
and the wind rushing by
cries through the trees
in the voice of long dead 
poets whose words offer
a truth to which cloistered
talking heads have grown deaf.

First published in Pages Penned in Pandemic , 2021

SHE

She surely should have known better. Selling sea shells by the sea shore is a short sighted career path. Anyone can pick up the shells on the seashore, selling shells is simply silly, and she should see that. But each day she sets up her stand, sets out the shells, and sits waiting to see who will shop for her sea shells. No one does, of course, but she is certain she will sell some soon if only to sailors shortly setting sail. So sad, really, but she certainly does not seem to mind.