My sister only wanted a horse an my parents thought they could solve that dilemma with a pony at her fifth birthday party where she would get all the extra rides, her friends and playmates be damned. Like most great parental plans, this one was doomed to failure, and failure marched front and center as they learned from the pony was loaded back into the trailer and my sister tried to tie herself to the trailer with ribbon from her gift wrap. She was never good with knots, even when she died at 52, the cancer having ravaged her one organ at a time, but even in her waning days, she whine to our mother that all she ever wanted was a horse, then winked at me, staring around her hospital room, since we both knew there was a pony in there somewhere.
Oddly I have a photo of my grandmother’s grave, but not one of my mothers, either of them actually, and we’ve yet to have a funeral for the one who raised me. I forgive the one who gave me life, for she gave me to one she felt could care for me well and she slipped away into death before I found out her name. I do have a college yearbook photo of her, and that will have to do every day, and especially on Sunday when she will have been lying in the soil of West Virginia for sixteen years, and I will be mourning her passing for four.
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.
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.
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.”