THEN, NOW

It was easier then, so let’s
go there, the spring of 1970,
the location is less important,
so long as it’s a coffee house
where those barely old enough
to drink, or barely short of that
age congregate, waiting for
something to happen or, I
seriously hoped, someone,
someone with little hair, but
who carried James Joyce in
his jeans pocket, Portrait of
the Artist the only Joyce to fit.

I had thought of Ginsberg or
Corso, a better fit, but too
intelligentsia for this audience,
and literature was not my purpose,
although I hoped they did
not know that, or if so, would
not hold it against me, at least
until after a first date and sight
of me in my Air Force uniform.

I did succeed that spring, so
my efforts did bear fruit, but
50 years, and a failed marriage later,
let’s instead go back twenty
years, to an Indian restaurant
where being a poet fit neatly
into the hip pocket of my jeans.

First appeared in the South Shore Review (Canada) Issue 2, Spring 2021

THREE MORE TRANSCRIPTS OF ENTRIES FROM THE TAPE RECORDED JOURNALS OF YETTA GOLDSTEIN

ENTRY:  March 27, 1971

So, finally he’s here.  Nine months, what God, another joke?  Okay, she ate the damned apple, so stick it to the snake.  But what would you know, another man.  For six hours I’m lying there, dying from pain before the shmendrick walks in like some king, smiles at all the cutesy nurses, finally sees me and says “Yetta, you look good.”  I look good and he should get a giant boil on his tuchus.  God, me again, a couple more things:  One, it would kill you if David, yes a good biblical name, to hell I was going before I’d agree to Morty like my Saul wanted, so it would kill you if you gave him some hair so he doesn’t look like an overripe peach with eyes?  Two, so how about a new rule, labor before childbirth lasts only as long as the act of conception.  I could live with a two minute labor, and that’s from when Saul starts thinking about it.  And David’s lying on my belly (God, you can have the extra weight back now, I’m done with it) and he’s smiling at me  and Saul says “can I hold him, you’ve been carrying him for nine months.”  It’s a good thing I’m so tired or Saul would get a second bris, this time with a butter knife and no wine.  So listen, God, I need some rest, but a tip for the next world you create.  Skip the cockroaches, and if women have to suffer, hemorrhoids will suffice – we don’t need husbands too.

 

ENTRY:   October 2, 1987

It’s Erev Yom Kippur, and this year Saul got the good seats.  Just in front of that new, cut young Cantor, what a Kol Nidre this will be.  And he’s single, not that I am.  Memo to self, find out what Saul’s hiding with the good seats.  I know he’s not schtupping his secretary, for that he’d have me made President of the Woman’s Club and maybe a seat on the Board.  And God, what to wear.  I could wear that new black silk, but it doesn’t go at all with my mink.  God, could you maybe give me a hint what kind of shmatah Natalie Stein, you know her, big nose and too much eye makeup, is wearing tonight?  Would that be too much to ask?

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ENTRY:     June 14, 1990

That putz, where does he get off saying he doesn’t love me, hasn’t for years.  What? I didn’t cook his meals, sew buttons back on his shirts always popping off, always a size too small.  This is how he repays me.  He should breakfast with worms.  It would be easier if there were another woman, maybe a bit younger, maybe a shiksa, that I could understand.  But no, god forbid, just “I don’t love you anymore.”  What a schmuck, and me – didn’t see it coming.  So God, this is payback for what, exactly?    That Yom Kippur I snuck a half a bagel before sunset.  Have a heart, there was no cream cheese, much less lox.  The kids are grown, I should be thankful for that I suppose, some nachos I’ll carry forward, that and the house the Lexus and the summer place, let him live in some apartment, may he someday rot in hell.  What to do?  First a good lawyer, heaven knows he’ll find some shyster.  Second, two buttons left on each of his damned shirts.  Let him poke himself with the needle, the prick.  I’ll survive, it’s not like my life with him wasn’t tsuris heaped on mishegas.   I’m better rid of him.  I’ll show him, clean him out good, he’ll think prunes are second rate when I’m done with him.  Oh God, am I such a bad person, you should make me suffer like this, you haven’t given me enough grief already?  This is how You repay a mother and wife?  God, you have some twisted sense of humor, but I’ll survive, just to prove You wrong too.  Oy, if only God were a woman, what a world this could be. 

First appeared here on April 4, 2016

MANUAL LABOR

(Instructions for Mourning a Marriage)

It didn’t come with an instruction manual,
no simple, poorly translated diagrams
telling me to “be inserting Tab A
into the Slot B,” none anywhere to be found.
But I was young, and didn’t worry,
despite entreaties to get help first
before beginning the intricate task of assembly.
I laid out all of the parts carefully
until it looked about right, and made
my own checklist, noting each part in detail,
smug when I found that all were present
including a couple that had no discernable purpose.
I cobbled together a small toolkit,
things that looked like they might work
and set about the laborious task of building it.
It went together fairly easily, logical connections
made, wires twisted and wrapped in small bits
of duct tape, until it took shape and function.
I reached out gingerly for the starter switch
and depressed it with great trepidation.
It began to hum, its gears crawled to life,
almost meshing seamlessly, with only
the occasional groan, shake and click
from some dark corner of the machine.

For some time it worked reasonably well,
with occasional starts and stops,
but nothing a little oil didn’t correct.
Every now and again I would find the odd part
left in its wake, and for a while
I would put them in a drawer in my desk.
But they grew too numerous, and since it
kept sputtering along, I slowly discarded them.
Now I can’t tell when it happened, since
I long ago stopped checking it each morning,
but one morning recently I turned to it
and it sat, refusing to move, static.
I pushed and prodded it. It sat.
I changed its battery. It shuddered and sat.
I took it to the repair shop and they stared
until one of them laughed and said,
“There is absolutely nothing we can do, we have
no idea how it worked this long, all we can say
is give it a proper burial, and next time
do yourself a favor and read the fuckin’ manual.”

First published in The Right to Depart, Plain View Press (2008).

ANCIENT AMONG ANCIENTS

As we walked slowly through the Forum
the Coliseum receding into the late
afternoon, the Virgins stood patiently
as befits a priestess trained to avoid
the stares of passing men, even tourists
such as we were, the columns staring
down reminding us of our youth

despite the birthdays that we celebrated
with the joy of togetherness, and
the nagging knowledge that we were
another year closer to that moment
we refuse to acknowledge, aware
always of its growing proximity.

We stare back at the Coliseum,
as the sun slides behind its walls,
and as the vendors selling all manner
of items the buyer will regret
in mid-flight home pack up for the day,
I imagine Caesar pausing in thought
then, sneering, turning his thumb down.

ON ROMULUS

For years all I wanted was
a working familial cloaking device.
The kind the Romulans had
in the early days of Star Fleet.
It was easy to feel overwhelmed
amid them, teaming together
for holidays, reunions.
I never could, I never did
disappear though she felt my
sometime silence oppressive.
Now that I am part of that admixture,
I have found the device and cannot
for the life of me figure out
how to turn it off in the presence
of my own too small and shrinking family.

Maximum Exposure

She carefully hangs her life
on the tautly stretched line
across her small back yard.
A sun faded floral housedress
a pair of bib overalls
knees worn white on
the kitchen linoleum,
cracked and dingy.
She waits patiently
for Humphrey Bogart to arrive
and carry her up
the river of her memory.
The chicken threatens
to burn in the cramped oven
and she is again without napkins.
He will be home soon
his six pack chilling
in the old Kelvinator
and she feels the slap
on her bruised cheek
as she fluffs her pillow
where she will soon hide
her purpled face.


Recently appeared in Aurora, Down in the Dirt Vol. 167 (2020)

A SMALL PAIL OF TRUTH

The Good news about rom-coms
is that Hollywood (and occasionally
Paris, Lisbon and Madrid, but never Berlin)
crank them out endlessly, and each
contains that grain or two of truth,
like salt rubbed in the wound
of a failed first marriage, and the balm
of the discovery of true and abiding love.
The small pail of rom-com truths
is easily carried, sometimes off
a too strong wind, but it is never enough
to build a dune to hold back
the waves of emotion that attend
the most fragile and passionate
of all human relationships.
Yet we sit, smile, and watch hoping
that this one’s grain is the one that tips
the scale ever so slowly in our favor.

DO NOT FORWARD

I thought about sending you a postcard,
one with the Riviera in the background
or from Vieux Nice, with its teeming life,
after all, we did have 30 years together.
We never came here, I haven’t been back
to the places we went together since they,
like so much of what we shared, I left to you.
I figured you needed that more than I did,
that you said you felt nothing for me anymore
I still felt much, good, bad, but never
indifferent, so you got it all, though to you,
I suspect, even the good turned sour with time.
I couldn’t think of what to write on the postcard
so to save us both time, and you
the effort, I simply put a stamp on it
and threw it in the trash container along the beach.

ON 15 YEARS

Today is my 15th wedding anniversary, and that merits a special posting to the person who has completed me in ways I never imagined possible.


The sheer inadequacy of words
is made painfully manifest today.
I grasp at words: love, passion, joy
and each still falls short of its intended mark.
There is a moment each morning,
each night as the lights go out,
and every moment in between
when I am love, hope and joy,
but separate me from you
and I am none of those things fully.
Fifteen years ago I said to all gathered
that I do, and ever since I say
to myself, I am so lucky that I did.

EARLY MORNING

Early this morning
as I drove through the mist
that clings to Portland in March
like a child’s yellow slicker,
I thought of you, home,
asleep on our bed, my side
tidy, no faint indentation
of life, and I thought of
the thousands who have died to date
in Iraq, who never again will leave
a faint indentation in any bed.
It is far easier thinking of you,
of regretting the miles between us
at this moment, but knowing
that I will shortly bridge
those miles and we will tonight indent
our bed, that two thousand miles
is little more than an inconvenience,
while many of them are no more
that a dozen miles outside of
countless towns; but the effect
of that short distance is infinite
and they can only indent the thawing
earth beneath the granite stones.


For a while, I will be using Thursday’s posts to feature poems I previously had published. Today’s, Early Morning previously appeared in The Right to Depart, Plainview Press, (2008).