NEEDLE

She tells me I should rest,
that I need convalescent time,
but I want to tell her, “why,
it isn’t like they stuck a needle
in my eye, so why rest?” but
it actually is just that, but the rest
of my body is none the worse
for the wear on my face,
and it hurts less when I
am doing something other
than thinking about it.

The eye will feel better
in a day or two, they say, and
I have great faith in them,
why else would I let them
stick a needle into my eye,
and anyway, I have a spare
and that is the one that still
works like new, well, almost new
normal wear and tear excepted.

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

FINDING PEACE

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.

FIRST KISS

You ask me if I remember
when we first kissed, and then add
and what was it really like for me.

I know the answer you expect,
and I am reluctant to tell you
otherwise, but I have to be honest.

It was moments after I left you
at your door on our first date,
having found my car finally
in the parking garage near
the coffee house downtown.

I had just gotten in the car
to drive to my apartment
in the distant suburbs, and
turning on the ignition, I
kissed you passionately
on the lips, all eyes closed.

And, it was wonderful, though
the kiss we shared in reality
later that month put it to shame.

AN AWAKENING

Take one part
Grand Marnier, one
Frangelico, a short cup
of coffee, whipped cream
only if you wish,
curl on the sofa
with your life’s
greatest love
and your first
real, truly your
first Christmas Eve
makes you wonder
why you waited
so long.

First published in The Poet: Christmas (2020 United Kingdom)

A NOVEL IDEA

If I were a character in a novel, say
by Kawabata, that evening we met
twenty years ago, I would have
placed my hand lightly on your shoulder,
and I would have felt a heat,
embers of a passion that would,
in hours, leave me consumed by it.

I was a middle-aged, soon to be
divorced man on his first date
in thirty years, imagine a teenager
knowing what not to do, but with no
idea of what to do save chatter
and periodically gaze at his shoes.

I was, as the evening progressed,
bold enough to take your hand,
and hoped that my fear and anxiety
might be mistaken as romantic,
or bold and daring, anything but
the reality that was consuming me.

We’ve been together twenty years,
and as I read Kawabata again, I
recall those first moments, but
in this revised edition it was
your passion I felt in that first touch,
a flame that consumes me to this day.

ON THIS NIGHT

On this night
he walks silently
into her dream uninvited,
but she is used
to the incursions.
On other nights it
is she who sidles
up to him in the depths
of dreaming, each
slipping away
ahead of dawn.
On rare nights each
enters the dreams
of the other, paths
crossing at
the synaptic border.
On those nights
she looks for him,
he for her, each
grows fearful
the he or she
will be trapped,
alone, when dawn
arrives and the body
gently wakes, she
or he wandering lost
in a familiar
alien reality.

First published in The DIllydoun Review, Issue 1, December 2020 (Current Online Issue – the dillydoun review)

ON LOSSES

By the way, the headstone is lovely,
designed by your niece, it pays tribute
to you as aunt, as sister, as friend.

I do wish it had said mother as well
but I know I’m the one secret you thought
would fit into a corner of the pine box,
buried with you, to be, like you, reclaimed
by the rocky soil of West Virginia.

Little could you have imagined that
a few cc’s of saliva could expose
what you so carefully hid, and you
were helpless to avoid it regardless.

My adoptive father, the second one,
slipped away slowly, dying before death,
under the living eyes of aides and nurses.

You just lived your life your way,
answered to yourself and perhaps God,
and decided it was time to go, needed
no permission, made no farewells,
and in that regard, I am one of the family.

EVEN HERE

As winter closes in around us,
even here, the Great Blue Herons
go about building a nest,
inviting us to watch as they
make a home of gathered
branches and twigs, oblivious
to the state of our world,
of the pandemic gripping us.

We watch respectfully, knowing
that in this darkest of seasons,
we are about to witness
our own little miracle and will
soon bear witness to
the simple joy of birth.