A PRAYER UNANSWERED

When I was a child, a Rabbi told me
that I did have the ability,
to be used sparingly always,
to petition God for some good.

I filed this away with other stories
from the Torah, pillars of salt,
stone tablets, a flood worse than
the one that filled our basement.

At some point I needed something,
recollections are fortunately vague
now, and petitioned God in the most
humble terms I could imagine.

Nothing, happened, of course,
and when I asked the Rabbi, he said
either you didn’t need it, or perhaps
God was busy meting out justice.

I hope whoever was meted out
justice that day really deserved it,
because all the stories said God’s
justice was the end all of you.

PARENTAL MOMENTS

My adoptive parents died
six years apart, I received
two announcement texts
from the son they had together.

We negotiated her obituary,
and I am waiting for her funeral,
but after seven years, I have
given up hope of that happening.

I did visit my birth mother’s
grave, placed a small  stone 
on hers, watered the ground
with tears of sadness and joy

at having a mother at last,
and I have a picture 
of my birth father’s headstone
so at last I can mourn my parents.

AGING

We live in the cell phone age
and there are hidden advantages
that the young, exchanging
last year’s model for this,
will never fully understand
until they, too, are much older.

With the push of a button,
held in for five seconds,
the phone will go off at night,
and since no one any longer
has a landline, you are assured
that no one will drag you
from sleep to announce
they are able to extend
the warranty on a car you
sold two years ago,
or to say that a friend
or relative has died,
and denying death night hours
is the closest thing
you can do to feel that you
are in control of anything.

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

GRAMMATICALLY APART

What sets us apart
from other species
has little or nothing
to do with self-awareness
and everything to do
with parts of speech.

The birds outside
my window shun labels,
think only of eating,
mating, flight, of going
and arriving, of being.

They know nothing of birth,
do not fear death, for it
is merely a label they cannot
accept or understand.

It is left to our kind
to need to label, to define
every small and large thing
for we sense our existence
and must rely on two things,
for we knew that we live
a world of pronoun and noun.

A HASTY BURIAL

They should have had
an altar, even Abraham
had one when he was ready
to execute Isaac, and the ram
interceded, to his ultimate peril.

They should have had
a funeral, that is just common
sense and decency, but they
wanted no such thing, just
be done with it, bury it away.

I still mourn the death
of science for I know that it
operates without spite, without
anger, with simplicity, making
our world ever more livable.

Perhaps there will be
a resurrection, it has happened
before, although at times
it does seem that it would
take a rather large miracle now.

First published in Pages Penned in Pandemic, 2021 

TAKING

You can take my sight,
but my mind will still see what it must,
and my fingers will become eyes.
You can take my hearing,
I will imagine what I must,
and my eyes will become ears.
You can take my tongue,
but my body will shout what I must,
and my hands will speak volumes.
The only thing you cannot take
is my words, for without them
my prison would be complete
and I would be rendered mute,
deaf and blind, and that is a fate
from which I could never hope to emerge.

Reprised from March 28, 2016

ENSO

In the interstitial moment
between birth and death
a universe comes into existence,
something that never before existed
and existed always, new
and well-known, unseen
and visible for eternity.

Measure it well
for it is incapable of measurement,
and ends without warning
and precisely on schedule.
In the momentary breath
that marks the transit,
we proceed nowhere
and cannot return to where we began.

Reprised from March 27, 2016

FINDING PEACE

It wasn’t lost on me, mother, that this year
on the anniversary of death, you had been gone
eighteen years, Chai in your beloved Hebrew,
a lifetime for me, having never met you
save in the half of my genes you implanted
in me when I was implanted in you.

As you aged, alone, did you wonder what
became of the closest family you had after
your parents were interred in the soil of Charleston?
Did you ever regret not knowing, or were you
comfortable that the Jewish Family Service Agency
would make a selection of which you would
have approved had your approval been sought.

You have grandsons and greatgrandchildren
who will mourn me, carry my memory forward,
but know that I do the same for you, and you
never aged a day from that one when the photographer
took your college yearbook photo, a grainy
copy of which is tucked in my wallet and heart.

WAR

I have yet to wander the medieval battlefields
of Europe and it increasingly seems I never will.
I have visited my share of castles in Ireland and Scotland,
but the acoustics there are not good, and I did not
hear the anguished cry of soldiers falling in battle,

I have seen rivers, quiet now, where the blood
of the vanquished must have flowed in this war
and that, for Europe is a place of wars,
the perpetual gameboard for the greedy
and those who imagine themselves emperors.

I come from a distant place, where three wars
on its soil was deemed sufficient, but who will
freely give others the wars they have grown
altogether too used to fighting, and we gladly
offer up our sons to aid in the combat so long
as we only receive their bodies in the dark of night.

And perhaps that is our failing, for we know
war well, but we keep ourselves clean, and marvel
at the destruction we will never know first hand.