Mother’s Day 2018
Mother, you found me fresh
and fondled my small face, ears, and toes.
A foundling yourself, you opened
your blanket to let me into a soft space
where I grew, sometimes sheltered from the rage
of winds that rapped hard on the windows
of our house and then blew you off course,
I tucked in and hid from the down-suck.
Father as an ocean gale to whip.
When your wrecked ship’s tug
pulled me down, I vaulted
from the hard-walled crib.
Through a slip of pronoun,
a change of person, I found
the trick of becoming you.
Found the grammar of standing
in your place and the verb
slack to ride the undertow
and drift to sea, where tides
no longer rip, but parallel the land.
I floated this way into middle age,
swimming with long strokes
and again found myself
on a white beach where you, ashore,
elder and smiling in your yellow cap
hold open a dry towel.
Shivering, I climb in and let myself
be finally found safe.
A Mother’s Day Gift for the Dead Boy
It’s Mother’s Day weekend.
I’m in New York visiting Mother
at the nursing home.
I dial the hospital room where
my brother’s been
worsening for weeks.
In just a few days from now,
I will fly back to New York again
to tell our mother
her son is gone.
She will say to me,
The wrong child died.
It should have been you.
But right now,
Mother says over the phone,
I want you to be well.
She tells my brother,
I love you.
And I realize I was mistaken—
miracles can happen to Jews.
To the Cancer My Mother Does Not Have
You have been a bitter void these past few weeks,
the gap left by a rotted tooth that I have tried
not to probe with my insufficient tongue.
You have been the unwanted eavesdropper,
hovering on the rim of every conversation, waiting
to collect our attention on your grim sentences.
You have been anxious pacing in waiting rooms,
holding patterns, calendar squares penciled tentative,
the fermata in her boisterous music, ellipses.
Today the news of your nonexistence rushed relief
through crackling cell phones, was a welcome mirror
to the dizzying call seven years back announcing the arrival
of your sibling. I’ve written plenty to that one. Forgive me
for taking fierce pleasure in knowing this is your only poem,
for howling with delight to hear that you were stillborn.
[Previously published in Arsenic Lobster]
His mother said she named him for an empire,
and he knows how the candle’s fire burns
at both ends. How rockets blaze
through the sky—
firecrackers at dusk and then silence,
because every July commemorates
the worst of times: Afghanistan.
Iraq. He lights a candle
for his fallen brothers. His lost leg.
The wax burns, reminds him of pain
because that’s what life is.
His mother would tell him to stop
dwelling on the past, but she’s been gone
awhile, and he refuses to forget
the worst of times: her dying. War.
Sand in his shoes, rubbing blisters
into the ankle he no longer has.
His father’s last, storming rage,
when thunder burned the sky with bolts
of lightning. Memories are dangerous.
The candle’s fire burns his fingertips
when he kills the flame: prayers are useless.
Someday he’ll light a handful of firecrackers
instead, for remembrance,
because even pain serves a purpose.
Flames and thunder. Bombs and light.
Empires fall softly, like wax hardening
after the wick is gone.
He still remembers what it felt like
to walk with both legs. He remembers
the candle in his mother’s window.
Now the sound of fire crackling
feels like pain because
that’s what life is.
Where Children Still Don’t Step on Cracks
Everything here is broken. An old red wagon rests
overturned on an overgrown lawn, flower pots lie
cracked into pieces, a deflated plastic football sinks
into a weed-ridden lot. Paper birch bark curls and peels
like old paint, back porch banisters splinter.
Parked trucks rust, houses shrink, and garden sheds
sag to the side. In small gardens, beetles chew
tomato plants into long rows of shredded skeletons.
A robin’s nest falls from a tree, baby birds smashed
on the street below. A hopscotch game fades,
a faint outline like a chalk drawing from a crime scene.
And children, still chanting the old nursery rhyme,
jump over places where sidewalks buckle, where
tree roots grow and push pavement blocks out of place.
They are afraid that even an untied shoelace, a slip,
a fall, will demolish what is left around them.