9-11/ Cat/ Close my Eyes/ Crush/ Erupting/ Far Away Hatreds/ Jenny/ Laundry Cycle/ Memory Lapse/ Nana/ Ode to Edith/ Purim Song/ Renaissance Man/ Superfresh Holiday/ That Thing/ To You... Or Her
Ran down the hill from Statistics.
Dr. Flory spoke of a crash in Prayers—Aaliyah’s?
No; I watched the towers fall in the Senior Room.
Sleek, aloof and sultry, I prowl in alley-ways,
Or perhaps found indoors, pampered and petted,
I come in different sizes, shapes, forms and colors,
Much like my eclectic array of moods.
When I’m happy, I’m near,
Rubbing against you, rumbling in contentment,
Though spite me and I snap,
Hairs on edge, seething through my teeth,
But any situation can be rectified with a healthy helping of food.
Some treat me as an alternate child,
Others as a curse, rumors spread through the ages,
Most joke that I’m the lonely person’s companion,
The antonym of dog.
But I know that my roots spread further back than humanity,
A proud ancestry of warrior-beasts, first rulers of the earth,
At least if you watch The Lion King.
Close my Eyes
Just to close my eyes,
And quell my skin,
Would be a gift
I creep into bed at 2 in the morning,
And smuggle n anti-depressant into my mouth,
As though I’m a court riddler,
Or a renowned mathematician,
With the magic to trick myself
Into temporary death,
Like Juliet swallowing poison,
(Except like her, I, too, wake up to reality,)
Consciousness hits me in the face like a star wrestler,
Here’s your life, here’s your faults,
Here’s the pain,
Over and over again,
And I must break the cycle every day,
The long journey to set things right,
To find something to live for,
Only to wake up shoved back to the bottom the next morning.
So what better way to crush this hamster’s wheel,
Than to close my eyes to nothing at all,
Safely ensconced in a bed
She overbrims with life,
Like mother goddess or mother earth,
Challenging the waves of the water in a kyack,
Or the tides of government at a protest.
All are drawn to her,
Like bees to a honey pot,
She caresses their bodies and they feel whole.
She whispers her knowledge and they learn.
They don't see her as I do,
Through a mutual friend's eyes,
Cracking from strain and unsure of herself.
How easily she forgives,
Or changes her mind,
Because she's the only person who can hold her own rage in,
And tend to everyone elses.
So I don't know from where my infatuation sprung,
Through our friend, who loves her more?
Through the bees, enchanted with her honey?
Or through every time she's put her arms around me,
Warming my body,
And kissing my cheek?
I had been waiting for the volcano to erupt.
Well, at first, I ignored it,
Shutting off my nose from that tangy scent before the rain,
Convincing myself that—
This was it; it had to be,
Those “care-free teenage years” they all raved about,
The treasure at the end of the struggle,
But it won’t come.
Not until I want it to.
So the smell pervaded and vibrations began,
I tried to contain them, but still I thought—
It’s happening; as it always has,
And thereby recognized, it started to exist.
The misty panic rose to the top,
The volcano started shaking—outwardly—physically—
Where’s the fun? Where’s the friends?
I couldn’t move outward,
Took all my strength to keep it all in,
I need help, I admitted, but still I wouldn’t go,
Not until my mother pleaded with me over the computer,
And my medication ran out.
The volcano acclimated. As I sat in my last class—
I thought about cancer, from Alias last night,
How, if the volcano was physical, I’d never get help,
Not until it was too late.
And that would be my reason.
So I ran across the street afterwards,
To Health Services in Queen Anne’s,
But all that greeted me were empty rooms,
Moving people taking the cure away from me,
I swallowed down an eruption.
But not for long—I knew—body breaking apart,
In the corner, I saw the Lit House,
Like Mecca, like Jerusalem,
Like Islam and Judaism formed from Utopia, so would my writing.
But I’d never set foot inside that door,
Occupied by upperclassmen—faculty—
Perhaps even the spirits of famous writers,
Who I’ll never be.
But the volcano was hot—I had to run—
My vision blurred by fog, I dashed past my defenses,
And just entered.
Just like that,
A writer to Utopia.
I sat on a chair and—eruption,
As everything suddenly rushed forth,
Lava running down, scorching my cheeks,
This place had become middle and high school,
Just like I knew it would,
For there is no “perfect teenage experience.,”
Just the way I learned to survive,
My real feat had been breaking that barrier,
Though young and inexperienced, I strode into that Lit House,
The sole reason I chose to be here at college,
I suppose that’s something else about me,
Pain brings forth accomplishment.
Far Away Hatreds
My sister went to Europe
Six days before Bush’s ultimatum, and came back
Three days after the start of his war and yet
When she talked about hatred in Slovenia,
I (being the religious one) thought of the swastikas
I’d heard they painted on their buildings
While she (being the secular one)
Remembered the cold glares of the natives,
Cautious warnings from her teachers,
Of how the world knew Bush’s declaration was imminent,
And how American my sister and her classmates looked.
When I hung up the phone, I remembered
The “Hate USA” graffiti sprayed on Italian brick,
How I’d walked the streets cautiously with my mother,
Un-tanned, un-learned in the language,
Yet the only thing displaying my religion being
The faded Star of David around my neck.
How easy it is for me to believe in Anti-Semitism.
My mother claims the UN stinks of it—
Our family escaped the pogroms a few mere generations
Before Europe dragged screaming Jews to the Nazi torture chambers.
But to believe in Anti-Americanism?
When we flex our muscles as the “super power”?
When we brought freedom, justice, equality to the world?
(Or so I’d been taught.)
Half the world spitting out westernized movies, billboards, English language,
While the other half we declare war on,
Bringing “democracy” to the “oppressed.”
I being the religious one see myself more the Jew,
Where my sister being the secular one sees herself as American.
We both cling defensively to our identities.
But I begin to wonder as Bush’s war pushes all else into oblivion,
If the world sees the star on my chest more than the flag over my head,
Or if truly, the place where it’s most dangerous to be a Jew
Jenny, I tried to write a poem about you,
I tried to be kind, you were only six (but so was I,)
I focused on how you swung me around, just a metaphor, right?
I mean, who the fuck is scared of swinging?
Just a hypersensitive basket case who can’t love herself,
Who obviously can’t write a poem or story without getting ripped apart,
So I said fuck this, it’s your damn fault,
You were a monster, and I can’t express it better than that,
Beefy like a human cow,
Stupid and dim-witted too (they say that’s why you envied me,)
Did they even let you out of special school
Save to drag you out in a straight-jacket when you lost it?
(About time, I thought, to bully your own damn self for once.)
But even then, you took away from my glory,
Do you know I tried to kill myself that year too?
They didn’t lock me away but I still felt it, dammit!
Do you think that just because you didn’t escape,
You’re the only one who truly deserves to kill herself?
Well fuck you, you failed too!
You’re still alive, though I don’t know where,
I’d like to see you ‘xcept I’m not so great now,
Yeah, I didn’t kill myself but I became the cow,
And of course, once I left “defective” school, I wasn’t perfect no more.
You’d laugh at the way everyone runs ahead of me,
I’m still being swung around to other peoples’ expectations.
I wonder if I could take a gun and blow your fucking brains out,
Would I be doing you a favor, Jenny, like you never did me?
Because you’re all that’s left of my childhood,
A memory I can’t even express as it was, just as the emotions I feel now,
And the worst thing is that I loved you, Jenny,
Desperately so as you spat in my face for my supposed faults,
“You stupid girl—you make sand castle wrong! You play with wrong toys!”
I wish that with all of your angry swinging,
That you’d bashed my head into the swing set,
And scattered my fucking “normal brain” to the ground.
I watched my laundry go in circles,
One load in the washer, one in the dryer,
The former spinning, the latter tumbling,
As I found out when I opened the door prematurely
And damp clothes fell to the floor.
These were my first loads of laundry in college,
I’d waited two weeks, afraid of the succession
Of dragging sweat-stained clothes to the boys’ floor
At even intervals for the next four years
Or at least the next one year.
The tumbling took a lifetime
As the dryer blew torrid breath from its mouth, never tiring,
I read through several chapters in Judaism for Dummies,
From “Birth and Bris” to “The Shadow of Death.”
My mother was due to pick me up the next day
For a shanah tovah Rosh Hashanah—or so we hoped—
The beginning of a new year, a new rotation
In the tumbling history of Judaism.
If we did not repent our sins by Yom Kippur,
We would not be cleansed in the spinning whirlwind
But be condemned to the scalding breath of an untiring furnace
Fueled by our own weakness.
Most gentiles do not understand
The power there is in breaking that cycle.
But will we ever be free of it?
Well, I gather the clean clothes into my basket.
A reminder that one day, college will end,
And with death, I’ll no longer need forgiveness for sin.
For now, life goes on as always,
But as I shoulder my way back to the girls’ floor,
There’s some satisfaction that this one, insignificant, laundry cycle
my sister fell in
Kansas City, we were
visiting our family, we were
visiting the zoo, our cousins
racing ahead of us but Jana
And my uncle said to my mother, his sister
my mother, his sister, “Marcie,
Marcie, you shouldn’t let her fall behind, you always baby her,
don’t baby her,” but then she fell
onto the ground, and we rushed her
home, to Baltimore, and she was
diagnosed, stayed in the
hospital for 7 days,
7 days, and she remembers
it, the needles and IVs running like
rivers, like a branding of
diabetes on her pancreas, she was
2, and she
how the disease suddenly started her
life, blood tests and insulin shots and
what’s that thing called?
urine strips? for blood sugar?
I could never remember
remember what other people asked
daily, “why do you
prick yourself with that
needle? What does it mean,
mean?” And they ask me,
me, “when did she get
it?” and I stare ahead, lapsing,
sick of it?
Do I even remember? I remember the
pump, her getting the pump
in 1999, I was
sixteen by then and I came to the
hospital, where she was bedridden again
again? and my naturally, mother stayed with her
again? but I just came after school
anxious and scared on the
bed, by now a faithful
pilgrimage- will the
pump ease her burden
a little? And I tried to
remember—was it like this
before? And I stretched back my
mind, tried to stretch back to when she was
two, and I was
four, back to the zoo.
But I couldn’t; couldn’t get past the
fact that; my sister fell in Kansas City,
By the time she’d died,
She’d snuck to this country on a crowded freighter,
Seen both world wars,
Korea, Vietnam, everything following,
Survived the Great Depression,
By dropping out of school after 8th grade,
And had given birth,
At the age of 45.
Lived his childhood in “immigrant” New York City,
Congregating at a family apartment for dinner every Sunday,
But they’d all dispersed by the time I was born; we only saw Nana
With great abundance.
She greeted us with wet kisses,
And home-cooked Italian meals—even at 70 years old.
But I never saw her as Italian,
Living childhood in a poverty-wrought village,
Or old—born in 1910—
Old enough to be my great-grandmother.
Her birthday was 5 days after mine,
And we’d celebrated them together at family reunions.
My father moved her and Grandpa to Baltimore when I was 11,
And Nana strutted around that apartment,
A precarious balance between her normal, cheery self and just being pissed off,
I steered clear.
It wasn’t as easy, when she moved to Stella Maris,
And the term “pleasantly confused” got introduced into my vocabulary.
She was truly lost, wandering the halls of the nursing home,
Decades stripped off her life as she couldn’t think past her brothers and sisters,
I throbbed with sorrow when she couldn’t place my name.
And when Grandpa died,
Her center was torn away in a thunderstorm,
No more joy, no more resolve,
She went six months later.
After surviving the wars and immigration to America,
How could this one man uproot her so?
I ask myself now, but not then,
‘Cuz like any good teenager, I only know what I have when it’s gone.
But Nana taught me that the past isn’t locked away,
Six years in Italy rooted her in family,
Like a lasso, she grouped us all together,
Even when we couldn’t face each other,
In those last few years of her life, I distanced myself from my father’s family,
I’m young and Jewish,
Whereas all my cousins are older and Christian,
I took for granted that America is a salad bowl, not a melting pot.
I knelt by Nana’s grave in the summer of 2002,
Crying, begging forgiveness,
But I only found it when I looked up,
Seeing all the Roman-Catholic graves clustered around her,
A memory came, unbidden,
My sister’s Bat-Mitzvah—September, 1998—
Nana, still shrouded in the black of mourning,
Took me aside and she said,
We may follow different religions, but it’s the same G-d.
Back then, my liberalist mind took this as ignorance of the non Judeo-Christian,
But now I see deeper,
For what is “G-d,” any god, but the belief in morality?
The belief in something bigger than ourselves, which binds us all together?
I put a rock onto her headstone,
And walked out into the sunlight.
Ode to Edith
I mew a song of cat so fair to see,
With spotted fur and claws that tread on grass,
Her home has always been with those who read,
She prowls through legs and takes the time to sass.
Such fire breathed through whiskers long and sharp,
Her mood arranged to fit her own desires,
She plays on me as fingers to a harp,
I long to win her love ‘fore it expires.
Oh, Edith, cat of coy moods in the night,
How can I win your love so might you purr,
To be assured that me you will not bite,
With teeth or claws—let not such anger spur.
For I miss cats from my home far away,
Still you refuse to come with me and stay.
Though Bush declared war
With a warning of 48 hours,
I arose this morning, determined
To take a day off—not worry about
Israel, Palestine, America, Iraq,
But concentrate on beauty.
Spring crept out of the recesses today,
Brining wafting flower-smell and the chirping of birds,
And along with it came Purim,
The Jewish May Day
Of celebrating one small victory
That has endured in our minds for thousands of years.
Off with the formality—yarmulkes, tallit, pure-white dresses,
Off with the mundane—jeans and faded T-shirts,
I donned my flowing skirt and tie-dyed shirt,
Affixed bracelets and necklaces to my frame,
Went to the bookstore to buy a purple garland
To hang about my head—ribbons flowing down like exotic hair,
I wanted to be Queen Esther,
A hippie, feminist Queen Esther,
One of the only recognized heroines in Jewish history.
I sat in English class this morning,
Talking of Romantic poetry,
Coleridge, Wordsworth, equating nature with the Divine,
Their words a sudden remembrance of the renaissance carpe diem.
My garland pressed at my head as I thought of
How I’d love to be a part of their beloved nature,
Rolling in fields, my clothes stained by the grass beneath me,
Getting drunk off of fruity wine as custom decrees,
A renaissance virgin coming towards me with flowers in her hair
To kiss me on the lips and share her sweet scent,
Our hands roaming to touch one another’s Lives.
We celebrate victory but also time,
Jews have survived much but one day we will fall,
Wiped out like sand etchings as Man’s evil undoes us all.
Best to celebrate rather than wallow,
Dwell on peace rather than hostility,
Remember how ages ago, a mere woman, a vibrant Queen
Saved the Jews, our ancestors, momentarily,
From persecution, hatred,
Rabbi Akiva from the Talmud: Esther was uttered through with the Holy Spirit! As we see, “And Esther was favored by all who saw her.” (Book of Esther, 2.15)
Like a yellow line,
Drawn down the middle of a room,
The Superfresh in Reisterstown divided Passover and Easter,
The darker haired people on the left,
The lighter on the right,
I closed my eyes and thought of “Fiddler on the Roof,”
The Jews and Christians living side by side,
But there was no schism in a 21st century supermarket,
But my body is divided,
By Christian and Jewish heritage,
And when I found myself blindly wandering the Easter aisle,
I jumped over the invisible line,
Like Golde fleeing the church,
Once she found her daughter had married a Christian.
But 20 seconds later, my mother,
Born of two Jewish parents,
Meandered thoughtlessly to the Other Aisle,
To buy my dad an Easter card.
And then I realized there was a line,
But only in my mind.
I wonder if the average renaissance man
Can easily flit from subject to subject,
Talking in detail of musical theory terms,
Then conducting an argument on the Punic Wars,
Or if we're all bound, like butterflies in the wind,
To just scrape our feet on the petals of genres.
I know what "forte" means but not "tambre,"
The Punic Wars were fought over Carthage but I don't remember the dates.
Or, if it's just us renaissance women,
Cursed, like Lilith, for forsaking our roles,
And leaving our simple kitchens.
Or if it's just me,
Who phrases words together like connect the dots,
Charles Dickens... Victorian Period,
Bach and Beethoven... Classical,
The Caesars… of Rome,
But never see the larger picture.
I celebrate and spit on my fate as the renaissance man,
I’m not tied to one thing,
But I understand nothing completely.
I’m free of all chains,
I’m carried by the whispering wind,
At my midsection—
That I never dare mention,
But I know it’s there.
Not just a tug at my stomach—
Not just a squeeze—
But other peoples’ eyes—
Or lack thereof—
As they whisper behind my back.
She’s large! or—
Look how she jiggles!—
When I dare give them the opportunity—
But I cannot.
Never look down—
For fear I birth it—
To You... Or Her
Twisting against my spine to seek out your façade at breakfast,
Why have I been searching so desperately for You?
Sputtering and drowning in Your presence,
Desperate to be heard,
Blubbering like a fool,
Why, when I feel so alone here, do I turn to You?
Because we both knew Her.
Not a new face at college, but an old memory,
I knew Her from elementary,
While You know Her from high school,
And She came here to visit the both of us.
Cuz You feel so isolated here,
While I’ve felt isolated all my life.
I want to help You,
For nearly selfish reasons,
I want to be Your friend,
As if You’re bait for Her,
As if I even know Her,
Third grade is now 10 years ago.
I want You to be happy here,
No, more like not upset,
To stop feeling alone and misunderstood,
Cuz I felt like that all through grade school.
And if You leave here,
You’ll curse the next four years to be the same.
Hell, now I’ve made You a duplicate for me, not Her,
And I don’t even know You, not really,
Just through Her words,
And Your actions these past three months.
You want to go to Her,
You know Her, not me,
You feel Her school would be more for You,
You and Her would be reunited,
And I’d stand alone.
As if not only by You but by Her,
My past life,
A vapor crumbling into mystery.
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