There was always breakage. You accounted for breakage. You measured breakage. You didn’t know when breakage would happen, but you knew it would. You hoped to minimize breakage, but not to totally avoid it. It couldn’t be done and there were those who relied on some level of breakage to make a living, who cleaned up after it when it happened, who logged it and measured it, who devised plans to avoid it. And there were those who had a hand in creating it, or seeing it through, but no one really liked matrimonial lawyers except other matrimonial lawyers.
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.
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.
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
It is quite possible
I had seen you before
in the hallway perhaps.
I hope I smiled,
I assume you did.
Neither of us
could have imagined
it would one day
grow into love.
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?
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
ENTRY: July 30, 1970
So, is this fakokteh box doing anything? Hello, HELLO? Buttons, now I’m a button pusher. Some kind of secretary now. Hello? Oh, hell, if it’s on it’s on and if not that’s Saul’s problem. So yesterday I tell my Saul, “You wouldn’t believe, we’re pregnant!” And Saul says, “you mean you’re pregnant Yetta, now isn’t a good time – can we talk about this later?” “Later, schmater,” I say, “we’re going to have a baby, so what do you feel?” And Saul pauses like emotions are alien to him somehow. “You know I’m excited,” he says. Like a dead person shows excitement as they lower him into the ground. “But I thought we were going to wait until the business grows.” And I’m thinking so Saul, did you tell your sperm they should be patient, maybe they should forget how to swim. But when he gets home he got this plastic box with the cartridge thingee that only goes in backwards, a true goyish design. “It’s a cassette recorder,” like I’m stupid, he says, “so you can keep a journal of your pregnancy so our child will know more about where he came from.” So my hand is broken Saul, nu? A pen and paper won’t do? For five thousand years it worked just fine, but no more? And so he’ll know where he came from? He came from you getting all hot and bothered after watching Sophia Whatshername, the Italian one with the big you know whats. Like your memory is so short you forgot what she looked like in the time it would take me to put in my diaphragm? And four minutes later, I’m pregnant? Charlton Heston, such a cutie even if he is a goy, couldn’t part the seas so fast as Saul is finished. So I say “how does this thing work?” and my energetical Saul says “Yetta, I’m tired, I’m sure you’ll figure it out.” Which means my beloved husband, Thumbs Goldstein, hasn’t got a clue, what else is new. So box, you getting this? My child should know his father wants we should call her Sophia if it’s a girl. I tell Saul she’ll be Sophia right after a blind moyel I hire recircumcizes you. But by then, of course, he’s already snoring to wake the neighbors. We’ll I’m gonna push the button says STOP/EJECT and hope it works. If only our bed had an eject button. God, now that my figure’s going to hell for nine months or so, thank You very much, you think on the next model of man you could put a nice on/off switch? Well my kinder, welcome to the world, and if you’ve got complaints, go talk to your father.
First appeared here on April 3, 2016
First, Peter Piper could not have picked a peck of pickled peppers. You don’t pick pickled peppers, you purchase them. And if he meant he picked a peck of peppers to pickle, then he should have said so. And he should have specified what sort of peppers he picked to pickle. Anaheim would be good, as would red, but Peter was a rebel, so it was probably Habanero or Scotch Bonnet. And I do feel for Peter’s wife, Paulette Piper, I mean what is she going to do with a quarter bushel of pickled peppers?
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.
(Instructions for Mourning a Marriage)
It didn’t come with an instruction manual,
no simple, poorly translated diagrams
telling me to “be inserting Tab A
into the Slot B,” none anywhere to be found.
But I was young, and didn’t worry,
despite entreaties to get help first
before beginning the intricate task of assembly.
I laid out all of the parts carefully
until it looked about right, and made
my own checklist, noting each part in detail,
smug when I found that all were present
including a couple that had no discernable purpose.
I cobbled together a small toolkit,
things that looked like they might work
and set about the laborious task of building it.
It went together fairly easily, logical connections
made, wires twisted and wrapped in small bits
of duct tape, until it took shape and function.
I reached out gingerly for the starter switch
and depressed it with great trepidation.
It began to hum, its gears crawled to life,
almost meshing seamlessly, with only
the occasional groan, shake and click
from some dark corner of the machine.
For some time it worked reasonably well,
with occasional starts and stops,
but nothing a little oil didn’t correct.
Every now and again I would find the odd part
left in its wake, and for a while
I would put them in a drawer in my desk.
But they grew too numerous, and since it
kept sputtering along, I slowly discarded them.
Now I can’t tell when it happened, since
I long ago stopped checking it each morning,
but one morning recently I turned to it
and it sat, refusing to move, static.
I pushed and prodded it. It sat.
I changed its battery. It shuddered and sat.
I took it to the repair shop and they stared
until one of them laughed and said,
“There is absolutely nothing we can do, we have
no idea how it worked this long, all we can say
is give it a proper burial, and next time
do yourself a favor and read the fuckin’ manual.”
First published in The Right to Depart, Plain View Press (2008).
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
and your first
real, truly your
first Christmas Eve
makes you wonder
why you waited
First published in The Poet: Christmas (2020 United Kingdom)