It is that moment when the moon is a glaring crescent, slowly engulfed by the impending night — when the few clouds give out their fading glow In the jaundiced light of the sodium arc street lamp.- It nestles the curb — at first a small bird — when touched, a twisted piece of root
I want to walk into the weed-strewn aging cemetery, stand in the shadow of the expressway, peel the uncut grass from around her head- stone. I remember her arthritic hands clutching mine, in her dark, morgueish apartment, smelling of vinyl camphor borsht I saw her last in a hospital bed where they catalog and store those awaiting death, stared at the well-tubed skeleton barely indenting starched white sheets. She smiled wanly and whispershouted my name — I held my ground unable to cross the river of years unwilling to touch her outstretched hand. She had no face then, no face now, only an even fainter smell of age of camphor of lilac of must
Next to the polished headstone lies a small, twisted root. I wish it were a bird, I could place gently on the lowest branch of the old maple that oversees her slow departure.
First appeared in Legal Studies Forum, Vol. 30, No. 1-2, 2006 and in The Right to Depart, Plainview Press, 2008.
Much as every person is a Buddha every guitar can play a simple song. Some will lay it badly, some will break a string, some will play with an unspoken regret, but all have the capacity, recognized or not, to create a moment of memory. On this night there are two, both skilled, honed of fine wood, carefully strung, a purity of tone, and you know neither will fail to honor the song they play. But while one shows its mastery, intricacy of notes dancing from the soundhole, while the other sets a gentle rhythm, it is when the other takes up the song, that you realize it is playing it with a depth of soul that you will not soon forget.
When they asked him what did you do during the war he said “I just stood guard.” When they asked him where he said “A station, just a station, like most others, I just stood guard.” When they asked him did you see the trains carrying the bodies crammed into cattle cars he said “I saw many trains, it was just a station, but mostly I looked at the sky, wishing for the sun, but mostly it was gray and there was smoke from the chimneys.” When they asked him why did you wear the lightening bolts he said “I was a ski instructor but I broke my leg so I stood at the station, just a station like most others.” When they asked him did he know of the ovens he said “They made bread which we ate each night when there were no potatoes.” When they asked him about the Jews he said “I knew no Jews; there were none in the town where I stood guard at a station, just a station like most others.” When they asked him what he did after the war he said “I prayed, just prayed for my sins, sins like those of so many others.”
As the plane slowly descends the cemetery appears through a break in the clouds. The headstones are arrayed in neatly ordered geometries, unknown to those who lie beneath, and those who water the always verdant lawns.
Mausoleums cluster in a small village, from which no one ever moves, and rest comes easily to those who lie within.
Set aside for a moment
the sheer insanity of it all.
Pretend that this is not
your concern, it is merely
something that you inherited,
never wanted, would gladly
part with on the simplest
of requests you doubt
will ever be forthcoming.
Is this why you treasure it
and cling to it so tightly
or is there still the slightest
but of the magic that once
attracted you, that you thought
you had put aside, knowing
full well you never could.
There comes a moment at which both memory and history become blurred at the edges, where the bedrock on which belief has been so carefully erected seems more magma, shifting threatening to bring down the superstructure of desire and assumption. It is the fading that is at once both fear inducing and exhilarating for faith is tested and will most likely fail leaving uncertainty in place of illusion. This is the joy and treat of aging where your own life has former lives that you cannot be certain you lived, which seem familiar enough but never with the crystalline clarity you imaged memory must have. Memory is a Buddhist river and so much of the fun is continually getting your feet wet once again.