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.

SNAKE EYES

They roll in, one after the next,
after the next, gaps that appear
in their rank are soon enough filled.
By night you mark them
by their red lights, lemmings
with no cliff in sight, so they sit
one alongside the next in the queue,
disgorging their chattering, smiling contents
into the vast building, and wait
the prescribed period of time until
they swallow up their contents again,
far lighter in wallet, and leaving
the cacophony of the casino floor behind,
withdraw into the night.

NEVER BOATS

“Trains are present,” she said,” and somewhat
the buses, but airplanes are mostly absent.”
I understand what she meant, and didn’t need her
to cover hands over her ears to cement the point.
On a train, most sit back, some with ear buds
but many simply stare out the window at towns
and villages and fields flowing by, willing
to share bits of their lives, real or imagined.
On a train there is only truth, and what is said
is real, if only within the confines of the car.
On a plane the people hide inside headphones,
bend their headrests around their ears, as if to demark
some personal space inside which the person
in the adjacent seat dare not enter, even with words.
“Trains,” she said, “are as much about the journey
as the destination, while planes are an abyss
between the points of departure and arrival, crossed with
the fear you could fall into the pit of another’s life
and never again emerge.” I agree with her
as we pull into a station and she rises to disembark.

GIVE US THIS DAY

The old bus shelter
has spray painted walls
and a broken metal bench.
Each morning
he shuffles
up the hill,
a battered leatherette
briefcase clutched tightly
in his right hand,
a copy of the Seattle Times
“Nixon in China”
in the other.
He sits calmly
on the bench
case between his knees
and waits patiently
for the bus
that hasn’t run
this route
for the better part
of sixteen years.
Still, he waits
until the sun
sinks behind
the 7-Eleven,
when he shuffles
down the hill
toward his small apartment
satisfied with another day
successfully done.


 

URBANITY

Walking down this road
I would like to see a rice field
golden in the morning sun
with a great mountain rising behind it
just around the next bend.
I would settle for a town
its lone Temple quiet, awaiting
the morning bell, the call to sit,
with maybe a cat at the base
of a statue the Bodhisattva.
I am ready to bow deeply
to the first monk I see this day,
but my reverie is broken
by the barely dodged wave
thrown up by  city bus
running late and fast
down the crowded street of
this upstate New York city.

RIDE

There is a man standing at a bus stop. He waits at this bus stop each day, regardless of the weather. He is waiting patiently for a bus that will not come, the bus line was discontinued many months ago. He has a cast on his leg, but it doesn’t seem to bother him. It is old looking and you suspect the break is healed, but he hasn’t gotten around to having the cast cut off. I consider for a moment at least stopping and offering him a ride. I know he will decline.  He knows the bus will not come, but he is going nowhere, and here is where you catch the bus going there.