Aftermath/ Bat-Mitzvah The Changing Bonds of Friendship/ Fells Point on Winter Break/ High School Graduation/ Lavinia/ Martha Washington Square, Washington College/ The Middle Ground/ Middle School Extra Curriculars/ My Mother and I Look Across Generations/ New Emotions, Hot and Fast/ Ode to Autumn/ Sisters/ Sitting in Tawes Theatre, with the Art Show Set Up/ Thoughts on a Friend’s Abortion/ What You Learn from an Indoor Cat/ Word Lycantrhope
The purchase came from “Jacob’s Ladder,”
A Judaica store whose biblical title
Sounded exotic to me.
My mother wrapped the scratchy cotton
Around my shoulders, and I
Threaded my fingers into it’s fringe,
The bright, blue weaving flared like
Water in the desert.
The pages were all indented,
Hand-written scrawl, dictating
“Tell congregation to rise,” “face Torah here”.
I fumbled constantly with the heavy volume
Believing, rather than seeing the words,
The Hebrew letters were markings upon the sand,
Whispering promises of a world brought to life by
A rabbi’s chant, my song.
Braided and thick, like our
Curly brown hair, tucked under yarmulkes.
We grasped the bread together,
The doughy contraption made sweet by our
Blessing before our
Fingers dipped under the golden, brown surface,
And we ripped it apart.
The Changing Bonds of Friendship
I’d always felt a bit alone,
Even long before you left me,
Standing in that darkened auditorium,
As you left to catch your flight to Indonesia.
I watched our letters taper and die like
It didn’t surprise me. Especially
When five years stretched to seven, and
The only times I ever saw you were through
Squinting stares when you visited the States, and
Jesse’s family, who you loved more anyway.
He used to show me your letters,
Crinkled and worn with care,
Exuding the life that never left you, as
You came back for good, spinning
Libretto tales of exotic lands and
Daring stunts within a jungle plane,
But through slanted eyes, you
Changed slightly, shoving him away, and
Pulling me closer. I should have
Seen the signs, even then.
It’s been years now, and you’ve
Regurgitated any suppressed homesickness over
That far off place, you no longer
Need to look after others to
Hold yourself together, and
Our tentative hold has loosened
Into what it was all along.
And I suppose I can’t be blamed for
Those shards, which still sting, pushing
Backwards to that night on the swing when
We were all together,
The two of us pushing higher, higher,
Laughing and blind,
And he got to taste what it felt like
To be alone on the ground.
Fells Point on Winter Break
I huddle in my new college sweatshirt,
Grasping your Christmas gifts as you
Rap on old neighbors’ doors.
You used to dogsit for them when your
Boyfriend, drunken, threw you out of your
Studio apartment and slurred Make more
(They remember you, your
Cheeky, deceiving face,
They once expected you to rob them,
Squirreling their money away to your
Boyfriend’s desires, but instead, you
Just wanted to burrow your face into
Their dogs’ warm fur.)
While you were there,
I spent that last year of high school
Fantasizing, terrified, that they’d find your
Body dumped in some city sewer.
(I used to bite my lip through the
Telephone and lie, No, detective,
I haven’t heard from her.
You came back on your own time.)
And then I was gone,
Off to college while you got your
GED, living in your parents’ basement.
(I wanted you to visit me; I
Wanted you to
Taste what you were missing.)
But now, on winter break, I find myself
Sitting in the passenger seat of your car as you
Drive into the darkening city.
Squinting around the bright packages you
Make me hold, I see your
Refuge for the first time.
And suddenly, with neighbors smiling, I
Wonder… am I the one bereft?
High School Graduation
We tumbled down the lush green hill
Like delicate lilies in our white gowns,
The sun in our hair, and the mud by our feet.
Seven years of private school can be reduced to
A string quartet playing Pachelbel Cannon as you
Flow down the lines of snapping cameras,
You wait all your life to
Stand on the precipice of
And when you cross that threshold to take hold of
One flimsy piece of paper,
You think you’ll never look back.
But your head was twisted the wrong way
So perhaps they had cause, then, to
Blame your brothers for your
Husband’s death, when you
Married behind your father’s back.
You could not tell them.
No grasping with mutilated hands, no
Screaming with mutilated tongue, no
Record of that shattered innocence in your
(Those brothers were hacked to bits before you
Grasped a stick between your stumps and
Dug, like roots, the names of your attackers
Into the sand.)
You denied your father’s challenge, Lavinia,
Turning yourself to revenge over suicide, or so
They thought. Until, rapists dead, you
Leaned into his arms as
He lovingly encircled your neck with a blade.
(Not deviance, Lavinia, for it
Wasn’t your marriage, which assured your
No more or less than the
Girl no man could have.
They took your hands and tongue and chastity, but
In the end, only
Fathers have the capacity to give life
And take it away.
Martha Washington Square, Washington College
High school is supposed to
Seed carefully into college,
More mature, more grown up,
But the only thing that changes is
Groups of people like
Atoms, like molecules
Walk around a shared space, but
Encased in socially-propelled bubbles,
This party or that person
A secret code made of English
Words that only
Sometimes I want to
Press into their placenta,
Breathe in their rhythms,
Sink into the sensation of
Sharing the same
We all walk through
Martha Washington Square
Cognizant of this party or that person
Encased in the same college, same town,
But cut from the same cloth
We weave separate paths.
The Middle Ground
I. New York (The Bronx)
My father played b-ball in the streets
Nana looked out her lacy window
Buffering the smell of meatballs and sauce
Grandpa walked home from the barber’s shop.
He said the subway cost 15 cents
They took it most Sundays, and the trains
Other members of the family.
They rose from immigrants to Americans
They moved when Daddy was twelve
He fled to Boston for college
They hardly visit him, but
He drove them to New York for the family dinners.
II. Kansas (the city)
My mother had a boyfriend
From the time she was 12
They met at the Jewish Community Center
One beit midrash for all those rolling plains.
When we visit, we see buildings rise
She says she remembers the cornfields
Bulldozed out of existence.
I’ve never met
They are clouded by nicotine and heart attacks
They wouldn’t pay for out-of-state college
But my mother fled too.
III. Baltimore (the county)
Cities and countryside
Dwindle to suburbs, like
Squeezing out the extremes,
And the life.
I’ve no cornstalks nor alleyways, but
I closed my eyes to the cardboard houses
Created life in the sparse trees
And wooden playhouses.
I did not want to flee to college
But even the same state holds
Both jolting hills and
We just can’t seem to stay in the same place.
Middle School Extra Curriculars
The lime green uniform
Slid off my legs at 3:30 each day,
First the jumper, revealing the gym pants,
The white polo transformed into a T-shirt.
I’d huddle on the dewey grass and pull up
Shin guards and sneakers,
Still foreign to me.
My mind was more on sunsets than
Knowing full well that the only reason I played was because
You can’t cut anyone in Middle School.
So those times on the sidelines, I
Folded myself over my school clothes.
Grabbed bright red binders from my backpack,
Textbooks hard and firm against the ground.
Generic chapters about American history,
Or Romeo and Juliet for English,
A conglamatory of books and grammar sheets stapled together
In a kindergartner’s mish-mashed collage.
A worthy metaphor for adolescence,
The English Major inside would later tell me.
Our parents’ SUVs crunched on the gravel behind me at dusk,
The girls quieting scrimmage yells to more
We walked into that fading light,
Jocks and nerds alike, not knowing
That one day, this
Adolescent sun would cease
To rise upon us.
My Mother and I Look Across Generations
They spoke of bumbling love,
Those artists of the seventies.
You listened to them in your
Musty basement, away from
Your family, comforted by
Posters of proverbs in trees.
Teenage years are all about clinging,
Never moving past the brother who bullied you,
The sister who was babied,
The father who abandoned you for
A mistress and a heart attack.
I’ve hid away from you, my family,
Crying over girls my heart flutters for,
Crying for my boxed-up sister, who
Fights empathy with spitting.
We pressed our cheeks to
Cold cells and cold music, more
Sure of our fates, even if
They decreed our doom.
New Emotions, Hot and Fast
The summer day clings to your clothes,
Still young, you run out to the street,
Brightened by lime-green leaves, you
See the boy, pedaling towards you in the distance.
Your sister does the talking.
You, in the background, wrap your hands across
The rusty street sign, as she says,
“Yes, she’s eleven,” as his eyes sweep up your body
Like an early autumn, covering the ground.
But still, your heart flutters like a leaf-blower, and
When you finally tear
Your eyes away from your
Dirty fingernails, he has already
Ode to Autumn
You roll over my summer tranquility with your
Blustery breath and exotic deep foliage.
No longer allowing the thick, cotton blanket of heat,
But not yet cold enough to repel me, you
First sit in the shadows,
I curl up on rusty bench swings, buffeted by your whispers,
I turn crinkly pages of old books,
Like the drying leaves you’ve stolen from youth.
At carnivals, no longer the frenzied entertainment rides, now
Slower, like dying music,
I see long, Renaissance skirts twirl in your wind,
Local festivals put on by seasoned fans,
The sun filtered into dank colors by the thick trees,
The musky smell of change.
I can grow into you, Autumn,
I can trust your insistent winds to lead me hither,
But then you dispel yourself,
Surrender to yet a new season of
Coldness and despair,
People huddling inside their houses for warmth,
And I am left alone.
You come home so seldom now,
Flushed from the heat and exertion, your
Eyes roving hungrily for Peace Corps, sorority girls,
Community service betwixt binge drinking, a
Lush and vibrant collage of
Activism and conformity.
I try to watch you through lidded eyes
Conveying nothing, feeling everything,
Stuck like a fly to this never-changing spider web
You tentatively slink back to.
And I still think we’re somewhat the same,
Dreams slowly becoming tangible under the
Film of adolescent co-dependence,
I am too afraid to go after them, and
You never stop, but yet
We neither seem to get anywhere for long.
Our minds are still our own,
Crusty from childhood, whispering of
Failure and fear, isolation and abandonment, and we
Fight each other like
Ruthless gladiators, stuck in a game
Neither of us want.
We used to be children together, when I
First took your hand and taught you to make-believe.
We wore masks back then, me
Bossing you around, you
Bratty with resentment, but
Now, fifteen years later, we’ve
Seeded out into the
Sitting in Tawes Theatre with the Art Show Set Up
Like mere decorations,
This “art show,”
Spaced along the lobby walls of the theatre that
No one but the drama nerds enter
To see each other perform.
I sway for a minute beside each splayed
Canvas, trying to get it all in, but
Spitting it out.
The silence as a warning that I
Shouldn’t be here.
I feel more comfortable
Sitting on a firm bench, writing poetry
Singers and dancers would now
Rush in front of the paintings and photos
To belt out soft music, and
Twist their bodies in the lithe forms
Pictured on some of the walls.
(The actors would herald,
The singers would trill,
The dancers would move,
And I would record it all.)
Only then, perhaps, would we
All come together, and this would
A show of art.
Thoughts on a Friend’s Abortion
I watch the flatness of her
Stomach, and wondered
How far along the baby would be.
If it would have
Sucked the life from her,
Forcing expulsion from college,
Onto the streets, all these things
Behind a gossamer curtain, veiled but
So close. (She asked if her
Nudity made me
I watch her and her
Boyfriend, with wide smiles,
Chatting amicably, before
Gesturing, forced, angry,
Whole scene plays out in front of me,
Foreshadowed all those
Months ago in a private
Chatroom, typing, “I’m pregnant, and I
Don’t know what to do. He wants to
Keep the baby.” (Later, when he
Stormed off, she told me “He’s an
Asshole,” and took my
I visit her at college, soaking up this
Life she’d alluded to during these
Months of emails bridging us together.
It takes until that last Sunday,
The bus to the metro station home, to
Talk about that summer we’d once
Spent together, as time flew us
What You Learn From An Indoor Cat
You go from place to
Place, folding up on top of
Bunched up blankets and
Wooden table tops, overlooking
That closed-off world.
(I wave at you from the outside,
You have a sister and
I have a sister and
Our sisterhoods have always
(Childhood presents for
Close-in-age girls is like some
Strange suburban initiation.
We are nothing if not
Sedentary and identical.)
You meow in quick
Succession, and knead your
Claws desperately, and I know
You need me.
(But what you might
Not know is that I’ve always
Needed you too.)
The red ibist bird was
Bitten, turning svelte
With a shiny coat,
Baying at the moon
Eons later, once this
Has transformed the world, the
Egyptologist surveys the scene,