It’s jazz, it’s a club,
but there what once was
is no more, there are
no ashtrays on the table,
overflowing early into
the second set, no cloud
of cigarette smoke descending
from the too dark ceiling.
There is no recognizable odor
of a freshly lit Gaulloise,
in the trembling fingers of
a young man trying to look cool,
trying not to cough on each
inhalation, in the calm fingers
of a young woman who
you know speaks the fluent
French of her homeland.
It is none of those things
but it is jazz, it is a club
and in this city, now, it must suffice.
I’d like you to tell me
about the village in which
you grew up, and how odd
it must have been for you
to have met my grandfather
so far from any village
in the heart of Lithuania.
I suspect you left
with your parents, exhausted
by pogroms, exhausted
by the Jewishness
that to them defined you.
I’d love to know
about my mother who
I never got to meet,
of your eight children,
but like you, she
is silent and all
I have left
is a small photo
and a volume
of imagined memories.
The pelican hasn’t been around
for a couple of days, and we miss
his akimbo dives into the pond,
surfacing and throwing his head back
to show he’s swallowing his catch
even though we suspect some of the time
he caught nothing at all, but knowing
we’re as gullible an audience
as he is likely to find any time soon.
We hope he is off breeding somewhere,
making little pelicans that will
be able to entertain us next fall
when we return, birds of our own sort,
not snowy egrets but snow birds nonetheless.
We don’t want to know any more
about the mating ritual, some
things ought to be private.
We learned that painful a few years
ago, when my brother thought it
was important we see thoroughbreds bred.
We prefer our breedings like
good French films, suggestive
but ultimately leaving it
to our memory, like so much of our youth.
It would be an anathema to him
if he were a Pope or held deeply felt
opinions about anything, but he does not.
He denies being vacillating, rather, he says,
he is just open to a multitude of views,
never mind, she replies, that he
can never make any important decision
except by mere chance or luck.
He says he prefers life this way,
for he is disinclined to alienate anyone.
She says his unwillingness to take
and hold a position has alienated her,
and she points out that he has no friends
and few who would call him a true acquaintance.
He debates arguing with her, but he knows
she is possibly right and arguing
would do nothing, and so she walks away
and he can only imagine what might have been.
She is anything but little, huge wouldn’t be a gross overstatement. And I suppose you could call a overstuffed brocade cushion a tuffet if you stumbled here out of the Nineteenth century. And just for the record, she was munching on a well-aged brie and sucking down a Courvoisier-laced Greek yogurt smoothie. Oh, yes, did I mentioned she had been twice married to older men, one dead with two months of the wedding, the other divorced when his heart refused to give out on her schedule. So, Miss Muffet, I don’t think so. I didn’t sit down beside her, she plopped down on the edge of an intricate web I’d been working on for weeks. I barely got out before I was six microns under. So, at best she sat down next to me. And she left once she’d stuffed her face full of cheese, downed her smoothie, and left both her wrapper and cup on the ground for someone else to pick up, she pranced away, never even noticing me. And there, as Paul Harvey used to say, you have the rest of the story.
I always imagined it would somehow
be romantic, not in the Hollywood sort of way,
but in an idyllic, picturesque manner,
even if that denied basic reality.
Reality, when it comes to origins discovered
is overrated, for the normal percolation time
is denied, and the impact is sudden
with no restraints to temper the blow.
Way back when, you learned by stories
told by the elders, who know, or led
you to believe they did without question,
who painted word pictures, drew out
fading photographs that barely seemed real.
You believed them because they knew,
knowledge directly proportional to their age.
For me it was the inside of my cheek,
a wait, and an email, and then news,
place names barren of detail, Lithuania.
Later, village names, and only then visions
of pogroms, of flight, of a desperate search
for freedom and West Virginia.
Details were added, but the picture
was monochrome, a barren, wordless
palette and no brush to be found.
Good lord, people would you get your facts straight. Yes, there were three of us, but one is now gone. He disappeared one night, though I think the cat got him. But that is as close to accurate as you got. Okay, we were all severely myopic, or I was, and they said they were too. But that is where you went off the rails. We weren’t running after anyone. When you are nearly blind you don’t chase things or people. They are large and don’t watch where they step. And their screams can be deafening. We smelled some fresh bread and went, by nose, to check it out. Didn’t get all that far before we each felt a sudden pain. It was like someone took an axe to our back side. It was all we could do to get away. But the bleeding stopped quickly enough, though the pain lasted for days. And we must take your word it was a carving knife, though it felt serrated to me. And no one was there after she ran from the room, screaming. Thank god home was along the baseboard so we could find our way, since they don’t make miniature white canes for the likes of us. But let’s be clear, no one saw us coming or going, no sightings at all, and that’s the whole story as we lived it.
It is hard, looking back, to recall
just how many hours I spent searching
with a fair amount of diligence for just
the right song to express my love.
Most often I would find it,
but only after that love had been
replaced by another, demanding
a new song — you cannot use
the same song for two different loves,
that crosses well over into tacky.
I have to admit I’ve given up
totally on that quest, even as
the number of available songs
has grown exponentially, or so
the various streaming services suggest.
I have only a single lover now,
have for twenty years, and
as her hearing has slipped away
it is her lips that read mine,
and that is all the song we need.
It would help, she said, if you
would stop imagining your life
as a barge moving slowly down
the Mississippi River, one
in an endless procession, following
like so many lemmings looking
without hope of finding a cliff.
Yes, she adds, from time to time
one may break free, it happens
but you have to admit that is
usually a disaster requiring
a significant clean up, not
to mention countless hours
of hand-wringing and questions
as to just how something
so untoward could have happened.
And, she concluded, it
just so happens that I
am sick and tired
of dragging you along
on my path to the Gulf.
I mean, seriously, did anyone really think that the Spratt marriage would ultimately last? Sure, the first couple of years were imagined bliss. And sure, their dietary desires did help them avoid almost all waste. But that big a difference, even if only seemingly in eating habits, foretells differences in other areas of life. He was a neatnik, she not so much. He didn’t mind, originally picking up after her, but after a dozen years, let’s face it, it got old. And she was tired of his comments about her diet. Sure, she had put on a few pounds of late, but that was part of aging. And really, she didn’t look that bad, not old and shrunken like he did. People in glass houses and all of that. And she was on the damned Keto diet, so at least she was trying. She knew it could not go on, so she reached out to an attorney. And it was the attorneys who picked their carcasses clean.