THE CEMETERY, AFTER THE BATTLE

They come to her in the dark
the voices whisper, she hears them
from behind half lidded eyes
they sound like the children
that once ran across the open field
chasing the ball, a too slow bird
a mortar shell whose fall
outpaced them all, left them
scattered, shattered, marked
by simple wooden crosses
that were taken for heat.

She strains to answer them
the words thick on her tongue
clogging her mouth
like a gas soaked rag
stuck into the thin neck
of a bottle, lit, they explode
inside her mind, the shrapnel
tearing at her eyes
red, only red, the sky
seems aflame yet the sun
has long since set
behind the smoke of the fires.

They hover around her
gently touching her cheek
like a demented butterfly
seeking nectar long dry
she caresses the thick scar
were her breast once stood
proudly, but there is no feeling
only numbness of too many bodies
strewn on tables, across chairs
which are broken to feed the flames
which dance away into the snowy night.

She can see their masks
hiding sneering lips
spitting vitriol for what once was
she curses them, faceless
her eyes pressed shut
by their tiny fingers, kneading
the soft dough, pulling it
taught, letting it snap back
released by the sated mouth
of the devil child who runs
laughing up the hill
chasing a dragonfly
into the dawn.


First Appeared in Arnazella, 2000.

SHE SAID

She said that we are little more than clay
to be molded by God and carved by fate
and we count on nothing more than this day.

It’s but a week since she has slipped away,
we expect our sense of loss to abate.
She said that we were little more than clay,

just so much time, no matter how we pray
and when it’s done, there can be no debate
and we count on nothing more than this day.

We clung to her, begged God to let her stay,
she laughed with us, then entered through the gate.
She said that we are little more than clay,

that she didn’t fear heaven’s great array,
it was her time, neither early nor late,
and we count on nothing more than this day.

We still can hear her laugh, can hear her say
Sing! Dance for me! Life comes with no rebate.
She said that we are little more than clay
and we count on nothing more than this day.

AND WHAT IS LEFT BEHIND

She calls them
around her bedside
but they stand back
fearful of the withered ghost
hovering on the sheets, until
one, eldest, touches her extended
hand with a finger
as if passed through a flame.
I will be leaving soon
she tells them, if not
tomorrow then a day later
and I will take the hills
for they are mine, where
I ran as a child, tasted first love
and the stream where I swam
as a girl and from which I drank
when summer was entrenched holding
autumn at bay, that too will go with me
so when I am gone, you will
move the sheep and goats
to new pastures.

TRIPTYCH

A triptych hangs in the gallery of memory.  Admission is by invitation only.

The first panel is a time fogged mirror into which I stare.  The adopted image hides behind the tarnished silver.  My adopted mother’s voice is heard from a hidden speaker: “You were named after my father.”  I want to tape his picture to the glass, a face to share the empty space.  She has no pictures, she says, he never liked being photographed, said it would steal his soul.  She can barely remember him: “He died when I was five.”  I ask questions.  I need to know more about the giver of names.  She falls silent, drawing in, secreting memory.

In the second panel a woman sits, fidgeting.  She is a striking blond.  I cannot see her as being sixty-one, though she is.  I deny that I am fifty.  As the Rabbis climb the few steps to the Bimah, she leans over.  “You know,” Lois says, “just like you, I was named for your grandfather.  She talks freely of herbalism, life in New York, places she wants someday to see.  “It’s funny,” she whispers, “I’ve never seen a picture of him; like he had some kind of phobia of being photographed.”  Outside the Temple she stands with my mother and sister, arms interlocked, embracing both.  I snap the picture.  I am not captured on the film.  Lois and I drive back to my mother’s apartment, stopping at one of the unending lights on Wisconsin Avenue.  She touches my hand: “You know there was one more person named after him, your other sister.”  The light changes.

There is only a picture hook in the wall — not even the faint outline that marks the space from which a picture was removed, the wall beneath unbleached by the sun.  Lisa, my my sister, like me adopted  and as quickly withdrawn, left no outward marks.  She is a footnote in my father’s obituary.  She is cast off by family, an unmentionable.  She is my mother’s deeply hidden scar.

I am repeatedly drawn into this room.  It’s walls never change, the pictures periodically replaced.  I need to visit, to assure myself of — what?  Someday, too soon, this exhibit will close.