Friday, May 29, 2009


What I know of you
as a young girl
is a diagram of a paramecium
you sketched in a composition book

—because you were a Marie Curie
of the natural world?

—because you were a budding Picasso
who found cilia oddly stimulating?

—because you couldn't wait
to pull on a bathing suit
where I imagine you
floating all summer
at Orchard Beach
bathing suit skirts
swelling around you,
then tongue-kissing
the navel
of a peeled orange
in that long leader
before husbands and children,
girlfriends on the beach
eating sandy egg sandwiches
wrapped in wax paper

—because you wanted everything
to be that simple,
a single cell?

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

No Grace Land

"You took yourself and your sweet breasts
from me and gave them to maggots."

--Attila Jószef, Belated Lament

After you pushed off,
I could never trust any one again.
I knew they'd leave
just like you did without saying good-bye,
packing your bags in the early morning
claiming you were on vacation, never telling me
for how long or where you'd planned to be staying
without frequent flyer miles.

And how many times did I call
for you to pick me up
while I waited with anxious hands folded over my knee
looking at each driver behind every wheel to see
if that were you turning the corner.
I lost count. You were a no-show.
I wondered why everyone else had a mother,
a sweet voice on a telephone.

Blame yourself for my ruined marriage,
all those years of being root bound to a man
who had turned into blue cheese,
his hands and feet crumbling away from me.
I kept trying to understand
what I was doing to make that happen.
Mother, I missed you more as an adult
than I did as a child.

This has been a big cover-up.
Authorities stamped your papers lost in transit,
an Amelia Earhart hallowing the Pacific.
I don't know what happened to your body,
to those warm hands that used to knead dough
on the kitchen table for your yeast cakes.
Everything is burned.
Gone is Grace.

Friday, May 22, 2009

Coffee with Mom

"Those busy arms of yours are cool now
like this river with its broad silence
winding soft and slow."

--Attila Józef, Sleep Quietly Now

The removal of a kidney
brought you downtown,
yours didn't come out, but Daddy's did, buying him
coffee with a cheese danish
from across the street, whatever it took
to make a red light turn green again.

He had five more years left on the books,
marked by a daily dose of dipping his hands
in the waters of acetone to terminal cancer.
Better than staying in Hungary
during the War and becoming a ghost
on a railroad train. Choose your poison.
You left early, survivors

stuffing everything
inside a back pocket,
who taught me
to ride standing up
without losing my balance.
And so here I am.

You want to know if I've
been taking good care of myself.
Yes, I say. I have.
Afterward, we talk about the children,
there are no grand kids yet,
catching up on how the world's been doing
playing Disney on high-def sets,

wars, the presidency, and all the rest,
and how everything
is getting smaller
and costing more money. Money.
How it runs out like time,
the bottom of your change jar
with two pennies.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

On the Way Out the Door

You're a picture
I pass on the top bookshelf
on my way out the door,
curly hair, a mole on the cheek,
lake green eyes.

Been awhile since
you've put up a pot of coffee on the stove
or licked a Raleigh coupon
to paste inside your book
a trade-in for a blender, a set of glasses.
Was the redemption center on Third Avenue?
I don't remember.

All these years, living without you,
cringing at the arrival
of every birthday, anniversary,
Mother's Day, finding lilacs at Pt. Reyes
because they were your favorite.
At the birth of my children,
you never made it.

So many things have slipped
into the crease of night,
so many times I needed to call.
Doesn't matter.
I became my own do-it-all.

Not that I wanted to.
Both of us had cultivated a Greek
sense of tragedy knowing how Gods
can be bureaucrats with frail egos
who do things for the heck of it.

Now I know to stop asking for my life to make sense.
Why don't you visit my dreams?

Saturday, May 9, 2009

Creation Story

In the long ago of far away,
you'd read me stories
about Shingebiss and the Little Mermaid,
quoted poetry in between putting up pots
of Maxwell House coffee on the stove,
fed me peanut butter and jelly from the jar,
stuffed cabbage by the roll,
taught me to be true to myself,
the wild one who peed in the lot
straining sandstone on rusted screens,
a girl just like you, your Frankenstein,
who walked on a public beach
plastered with dead jelly fish.

Later, I cried out for you
to turn me back
into your real daughter
to braid my pig-tails
beneath a white birch tree,
to tie off the scorched ends.

Then I would sit in your lap
and listen to you talk
about the weather, the sky,
how we were going swimming
that afternoon, I would
smell lilacs
between your breasts,
and before a lid of clouds
covered the sun,
I leaned toward you
and it was quiet.

Friday, May 8, 2009

The Cymbalon and the Oud

A cymbalon and an oud
Growing out from the grass
Where a headstone beckons
For me to come closer.

It's my mother,
Powdering herself with
Silent Night
Under her arms, between her breasts.
She's busy and doesn't notice
When I sit down,
Measures a tablespoon of baby oil
Into her palm and smears her face,
Turns into a fingerpainting
With her nose on a plate.

She always had a sense of humor but now
Has become someone I don't recognize.
Disappears into her boudoir
Leaving only a smell
And a trace of powder.

Gone for all those times
I needed to know what to do.
The hammer of the cymbalon
And the cry of the oud
Is all she'll say.

Saturday, May 2, 2009

Letter to My Mother

From the time I looked at my watch
I knew I wasn’t going to make it,
Driving past rows of palm trees in the taxi
Mourning the heat from 400 feet up in the Miami summer
While you’d dehydrated on the trip down
From the 24th floor of Co-op City in the Bronx
And died before I could touch your hand.
Not exactly the kind of vacation you had planned.

After the funeral someone had squished
a grapefruit across the table from me.
Daddy had died a year before
In another hospital where the ceiling flaked.
You couldn’t admit he was on his way out,
Made your daughters swear we would zip up our mouths.
When I was younger, I wanted to scream
Until my throat collapsed for your not allowing me
To tell my father good-bye and how much I loved him.
Maybe I should've blamed myself for listening to you,
which I didn’t always do.

Anyhow, that’s a bed-time story for sleepwalkers,
Almost 40 years after your last dream
Of diving from a rockweed-covered pier,
Sea bladders filled with air pops
That you sucked for the first three miles
Until you exhausted yourself
And were pulled down into the Witch’s lair.
You were the first one who taught me how to swim
At Orchard Beach placing your hands
Beneath my stomach and told me to kick,
Not to be afraid, you would hold me.
But I always knew when you’d let go.

You would catch me then, beneath my belly,
A guppy that you brought home
From Woolworth’s one afternoon in a plastic bag
Filled with water, you joked my sisters
Had been rescued from a garbage can, strong stock
From the beer halls of Budapest to places
Where violets grew like gourds
Whose purple I've never seen.
Be there, and I would try to find you on the street,
In the high Magyar cheekbones of a woman
Waiting to order her half a pound of rye sliced without seeds,
I would attack any stranger with my hands and hug her knees.