WHEREVER I LAY MY HEAD

You say that you are uncertain
if this place yet feels like home,
and look at me silently
questioning how I feel.

I answer as silently that
you are here, I am here
so it does feel like home
just as everywhere would
when we are together there.

Without speaking you remind
me that even I would admit
a hotel room is not home despite
our presence, and I agree that
places with suitcases are excepted.

NOT COUNTING

I have had two,
although the first is long
forgotten, so perhaps it
no longer counts, it
certainly didn’t to her,
announcing its end
like the conductor
of a train running late
on the mainline to sadness.

Perhaps I have not forgotten
but all I see is myself
standing alone, intoning
words to which the crowd
intently listens, much like
the audience at a reading
by a lesser known poet,
feigned polite awareness.

I’ll just say I’ve had one
for it is easier that way
on all three parties.

A LITTLE DRUMMER

It seems less than fair that as a child
I was Jewish to the core, adopted, yes,
but certainly fully Jewish and not merely
by maternal lineage which would suffice.

Christmas was alien to me then, even
when I left Judaism behind, a shadow
that would follow me closely into
my Buddhist practice and life.

But DNA made a liar of so many,
my birth mother, the adoption agency
and my adoptive parents, for I know
my Judaism was only half of me.

So now I can enjoy Christmas
and other holidays, listen anew
to “The Little Drummer Boy”
and relish the irony of my new life.

For I have aged, as has my wife,
and when they sing “Do you hear
what I hear?” she sadly says
“not any longer I don’t” and then,

“Do you see what I see?” and I
must admit I do so only barely
and the doctors assure me that
soon enough I may say no as well.

FRIENDS

We will always be friends, we said,
probably half meaning it at the time.
How many times have we said that
or somthing akin to it, knowing
that the promise to call, to stay
in close touch, was at best
half meant and almost certain
not to come to any reality.

I have a catalog of friends, who
I told I would never give up, distance
notwithstanding, we all do, and mine
is replete with both good and bad
intentions, each and every one a failure.

I did not say this to my ex-wife
when we divorced, and I must say
that while I failed at the marriage,
or so she said, I did not ever fail
at not being friends after its end.

THE CHARM

The first one felt right,
there was nothing deeper considered,
just that feeling that now,
I know, anyone might have provided
but then, it was something
in a world of nothing.

The second, really, was
certainly right, for life this time,
the wisdom of a single failure
enough to ensure success,
and when it came apart
thirty years later, it was
apparent it was never right,
just more than nothing.

This one is right, for it
does not require feeling so,
merely being in her presence,
a completeness I never knew,
which explains why this time
nothing can get in the way
of the ultimate everything.

THEN, NOW

It was easier then, so let’s
go there, the spring of 1970,
the location is less important,
so long as it’s a coffee house
where those barely old enough
to drink, or barely short of that
age congregate, waiting for
something to happen or, I
seriously hoped, someone,
someone with little hair, but
who carried James Joyce in
his jeans pocket, Portrait of
the Artist the only Joyce to fit.

I had thought of Ginsberg or
Corso, a better fit, but too
intelligentsia for this audience,
and literature was not my purpose,
although I hoped they did
not know that, or if so, would
not hold it against me, at least
until after a first date and sight
of me in my Air Force uniform.

I did succeed that spring, so
my efforts did bear fruit, but
50 years, and a failed marriage later,
let’s instead go back twenty
years, to an Indian restaurant
where being a poet fit neatly
into the hip pocket of my jeans.

First appeared in the South Shore Review (Canada) Issue 2, Spring 2021

DEAR PAVLOV

We both know that having
a pet at our age is wise
for they provide a companionship
that can be difficult to find.
I’ve had both dogs and cats,
but the decision this time
was reasonably simple,
for dogs have an insatiable
need to walk their people,
weather is no impediment
and my arthritis is no longer
all that forgiving of damp and cold.

So we settled on a cat, and we
have been pleased with our
decision – she is joyous, playful
and reads our emotional needs,
but most importantly, other
than not needing to walk us,
she has been remarkably adept
at training us to live in her new home.

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