OVER UNDER SIDEWAYS DOWN

He is fond of saying that it is
“water under the dam,” and she
constantly calls him on it, reminding him
that water goes over the dam.

He smiles when she does this
and reminds her that it isn’t a dam
if water is going over it, and it is mindless
to say its water under the bridge

for that is the essential nature of bridges,
and, he adds, when I say it, you know I’m flying
by the seat of my pants, so why don’t
you just give it a rest for now, okay?

She replies, if that is what you want,
I will gladly do so, just realize that this
is why almost all your verbal analogies
have a tendency to crash and burn.

RESEARCH

She is a small woman
dressed in white, save for black
platform slingback pumps
and cherry red eyeglass frames.
She hunches forward in her seat
seeming as though she might collapse,
pouring over tables and graphs –
biochemical research papers.
You measure the depth of her attention
by the frequency with which she  pulls
single strands of hair from her banded ponytail,
strokes them gently, then, as if noticing they
have gone astray, tries to tuck them back in.
She pauses this ritual only to annotate
the paper’s margins in mechanical pencil
in a small, cramped hand, barely legible.
You know she has reached the paper’s conclusion
when she strokes that soft space
between those in upper lip
as though a teenage boy hoping
one day soon to grow a mustache.

WHISPERED SONG

“Oh, Woman who walks in beauty like the night
I am a friend who is distant and silent.” — Dineh Wind Prayer

We always sat
on the back bench seat
of the Collins Avenue bus,
stared out the big window,
noses pressed
against the cool glass,
stared at the procession
of stucco hotels,
simple neon signs,
lines of cars and
bathing suits.
My mother working
late into the night and
Beck, eternal friend
who buried her children
only to become a surrogate
mother to an orphaned son.

Beck would stroke
my forehead. At night
when the room was lit
by lightning, she cradled me
shielding my eyes
with sagging breasts
that had nursed three
daughters into womanhood,
later into the grave.

Beck whispered to me
in a mother’s voice —
my mother spoke
in another voice. I
stroked her wattled arms
watching the pouch
of skin swing gently.
Looking at my mother now
it is often Beck’s lips I imagine
kissing my cheek, “Aunt”
Beck, and not my mother
who still casts
disapproving glances
at failed attempts
at machismo, Beck’s
sparse gray hair
that rests on my shoulder.

I was Beck’s last
surviving child
a fourth daughter.
I am the last
to say Kaddish
to remember her
at Yizkor.

In the early morning
mirror, my eyes slowly
ceding sleep, my lover’s
sweat still beaded on
my arm, her taste lingering,
I see my beard fall away,
my skin is smooth, childlike,
my chest hair fades
replaced by nascent breasts,
testicles recede, hair grows
long, auburn, Beck’s face
as it once had been,
as it appeared
in the faded photographs,
stares back at me.

I am mute, wanting
her to draw me against
her shoulder, to make me
again – for a moment –
the fourth daughter
and not the son
she never had.
Next week I will go
to the aging schul,
I will sit among
the women, away
from dovening men, head
covered by the tallit.
I will sing
Kaddish to her.


First Appeared in Vent, Issue 1, 2003.

APPROACHING NOW

I’ll be there soon,
so hang in there just a bit longer.
I do want to meet the beautiful young woman
you mentioned in our calls, or
is there more than one, because
while your vision is supposed to be good,
it seems almost all women younger
than a certain ever-increasing age
are now beautiful to you.
I don’t want to tell you I’m coming,
you’d forget anyway, and it could agitate you,
so I’ll just show up and hope you remember me
or can cover well, and we’ll visit.
I know the week after we see each other
you’ll ask when I’m coming to see you, and
like I have for years, I’ll say, “Soon, dad”
and I know you’ll be smiling in anticipation.

WINDSOR EVENING

I sit in the window
staring out over the rain slicked streets
to the passing of the occasional car
and the three men who glance furtively
at the door of the “Adult Entertainment” club.
The old oak floors are scarred
by too many heels. The railing along the window
is bolted into the floor, suspending
the white lace curtains.
The young woman sits at the next table,
Players cigarette nestled between her fingers,
trying to conceal her anxiety.
She nurses the cup of coffee,
staring at the two menus resting on the table.
She pulls at the hem of her pink ramie sweater
and glances periodically at her watch.
Her leg, encased in stone washed denim
swings like a metronome as she stares
at the Detroit News, not reading.
She lifts her head, and a smile
creeps across her lips as her friend enters,
skirt dripping water, forming a small puddle
on the floor under her chair.
The waitress, robed in a black satin pantsuit
brings the escargot, on their bed
of linguine, and the evening washes on.


First Appeared in Eratica: Half a Bubble Off Plumb, Vol. 4, No. 1, Winter
1999.

TONGUES

Ninety-six years ago today
Women gained the right to vote.
It would be another five
before those who preceded
the lot of us were blessed with citizenship,
the least we could offer, after
our prior gifts of disease,
alcoholism and down sizing.
Who, our forebears must have imagined,
wouldn’t want to live somewhere
they had a reservation in their name
we had given them, their land
taken with their language,
no longer useful in our shared world.
The King of France allowed
only the Jews to be moneylenders,
reserved space in each town for us as well,
for which we are still told
we should be thankful, but
you have no idea how to say so in Navajo.

PHOTO

Oddly I have a photo
of my grandmother’s grave,
but not one of my mothers,
either of them actually, and
we’ve yet to have a funeral
for the one who raised me.
I forgive the one who gave me life,
for she gave me to one she felt
could care for me well and
she slipped away into death
before I found out her name.
I do have a college yearbook
photo of her, and that will
have to do every day, and
especially on Sunday when she
will have been lying
in the soil of West Virginia
for sixteen years, and I will
be mourning her passing for four.