In your shoes

When I shot up like a weed our feet
stopped matching. Our tastes
diverged too: once I moved out
I chose Docs, clunky Mary Janes.

When you got sick your shoes
languished, replaced by scuffs
and slippers. Two days after
we buried you, your daughters

and granddaughters gathered
in your walk-in closet
for a different kind of memorial.
I chose scarves and beads,

purses and pocketbooks. Didn't
bother with your shoes, those rows
of gleaming heels in leather
and lucite: like Cinderella's

step-sisters, I would've needed
to chop my feet. But one pair
of open-toed sandals beckoned.
Against all odds they fit, but

February is winter here. They went
on a shelf in my closet to wait.
Mom, last night we shared shoes
again. Were you watching as

I walked circles around the house,
relearning how heels swing my hips
playing dress-up in my mother's
shoes, now my own?

 


Blackbird

My son's dance performance opens
with a song you used to play.

I weep for how you rolled these chords.
I can still hear you singing

"I need someone to love and
understand me," the way you'd slow

for emphasis on "oh what hard luck
stories they all hand me! Make

the bed and light the light,
I'll be home late tonight..."

But you won't be. Or -- not with us.
Dare I hope that the world to come

feels like home in all the ways
this world sometimes doesn't, that

now you feel loved and understood
in all that you are?

 


Revelation

On the night before Shavuot
I fall asleep thinking
about revelation.

In my dream you give me
a necklace, a cluster
of charms on a long chain.

Some are golden plates
engraved with the words
we'll say about you

at your funeral and shiva.
We both know it's coming.
I ask you before you go

to give me my name again.
We stand in a vast shower
-- warm water flowing,

like a mikvah, like
the chevra kadisha
washing the dead clean --

and you say my name
and I hold you
while you weep.

 


Pedicure

I got a pedicure the day you died.
I was numb and shocky, couldn’t bear
to bury you without looking as good
as I knew you'd have wanted me to be.
In the chair I blurted out, "I'm going
to my mother's funeral." Today 
I took that polish off my toes, replaced
with periwinkle, luminous and bright
like your big string pf pearls you do not know
are mine now that you’re gone. I can’t text you
the nail polish emoji as a way
of showing where I am. But hi, Mom, from
the temple of appearance, holy place:
in making myself shine, I honor you.


Ring

It's a simple circle
of pink coral, set

mid-century modern
in silver and gold.

There's a spiral
of tape on the bottom,

wound around and around
to shrink the band.

Most of your rings
had that, artifact

of fingers growing thinner
with illness and age.

Today my sundress
is navy and aqua,

turquoise and lime,
banded with coral

to match the ring
that used to be yours.

I wish I'd asked you
about its origins.

Look, Mom, I'm
wearing colors. I'm

emerging from mourning,
from winter's long grasp.

 


Peonies

After your mother died
you used to visit her
on her birthday

with flowers,
Texas yellow roses
you'd leave on her grave.

Were they her favorite
or just local color?
I wish I'd asked.

You loved peonies best:
their big, blowsy
spectacular faces

too tender to grow
in the hot south
where you were planted

but you knew
the best florists
would have them...

I'm too far to visit
and anyway you're not
there in the ground.

For your birthday
I put peonies
on my dining table.

The tight buds stand
straight like
young ballerinas.

The bigger blossoms
bend over,
already flirting

with the fragrance
of decay. Nothing
lasts for long.

 


Mother's Day

 

It's a year of firsts
and most of them hurt.

Hallmark doesn't sell a card
designed to be burned

so smoke can ascend
to reach the afterlife.

And why didn't I save
every card you ever sent me

so I could reopen them now?
I miss your handwriting.

I kick myself now
for every deleted voicemail.

When I remember earth
thudding onto the wooden box

futility claims my heart
and won't let go.

 


I don't mind

Today someone asked how I am
and I said fine and meant it.

Maybe I'm growing accustomed.
Maybe all those years of bracing

for your death paid off.
Maybe it's just the sunshine.

It's easier to be honest now
than it was when you were alive.

I don't have to worry
that I'm disappointing you.

And if I believe you hear me
then you're listening no matter what.

I know this ease won't last.
I'll see someone who looks

like you, or a mother
and daughter with heads close...

I can't even think about
the first Rosh Hashanah,

all the occasions to come.
But right this minute

with the trees leafing out
and birds chattering excitedly

I know you're dead
but I don't mind.

 


Field trip

You walked through my dream last night
as a crowd of family crossed a hotel lobby.
Your blonde hair blown-dry and styled,

full face of makeup, earrings gleaming.
"You look great," I said, and you beamed
as though you knew the secret: you're not

in this world anymore. Was it a field trip
to visit the living? I greeted your parents,
gone thirty years. And then I was alone.

I seized my phone to call a friend to tell
the tale. "Next time, ask her for a bracha,"
he suggested. Waking, I thought: what would

you say? In life you would have laughed, or
said you don't know how to give a blessing
but maybe in the afterlife you're less afraid.

Or maybe you'd repeat exactly what you said
in life: make hay while the sun shines. This
life is too short. Choose to find it sweet.


Stars

In your filing cabinet you left
notes for your obituary:

you played the doxology
on accordion

you earned
your junior lifesaving certificate

you wished you'd learned
to tapdance, or written a book.

You included for us a list
of loves: dad, of course

travel, a good party,
Judaism and your children

your nutritionist guru,
the Big Dipper, the moon.

On Nathan J. Pritikin
we part ways. I'm likelier

to emulate Samin Nosrat
scattering kosher salt

by the handful (sorry
Mom) but I love

that you loved the moon
enough to mention her, and

the other stars you steered by
still show me the way to shore.

 


Dishes

Your Pesachdik dishes lived
in cartons on a high shelf,
strictly for the Dallas cousins.

When you hosted seder
the "help" covered the kitchen
with foil, brought the boxes down.

Yours were plain white.
Some of mine are red,
gleaming like polished apples.

Others are hand-me-downs
in melon and aqua and blue,
a gift from another mother.

Does it comfort you to know
mothers reached out as I joined
this motherless daughter club?

Back to the dishes: I know
you never kept the Pesach.
Did you wonder

why I've reclaimed
traditions you and Dad
were glad to discard —

did you shake your head
at this pendulum swing
of generations? Still

you'd like my table this week,
bright as your nail polish,
vivid as a Fiesta parade.

 


Crossing the Sea

As you
lay dying
you gasped
"help me."
How terrifying
to let
your lungs
stop breathing
to trust
that you
would continue
even after
your body
had ceased.
To step
into waves
that crested
so high
and know
the waters
would part.
To feel
deep in
weary bones
that from
narrow straits
expansiveness beckoned,
that redemption
was waiting
on the
far shore.

 


Today is the seventh day of Pesach, the day on which tradition says we crossed the sea into freedom.


April dailies

The last time
I wrote daily poems
during April

you printed them
and paperclipped them
in a sheaf.

I was so grateful
that you saw me
even a little.

When I spotted them
on your bedside table
my cup overflowed.

What would you say
to these
April dailies?

Maybe you'd be
mortified: too
confessional, too

exposing. Or maybe
you'd be glad
to be remembered.

Truth is, Mom,
I'm writing them
for me. The words

help me breathe,
help the channels
of my heart open

so that love
can pour through.
Dare I hope

that wherever you are
however you are
you understand?

 


Songbird

In the open window
as we began seder.

Between the readings
a fountain of birdsong.

That’s your mother,
someone said, hushed.

I called us to silence.
Can everyone hear —

I think even the skeptics
felt you there.

What was it like
to visit us in that tiny body

gilding the room with song
we could almost understand?

 


Your earrings

For first seder I'm wearing
your earrings, turquoise and onyx.

Will they act as microphones
transmitting wirelessly to olam ha-ba

every compliment on your jewelry,
the sound of your youngest grandson

singing the questions high and clear?
In return maybe they'll whisper to me

a request to nudge my father on this night
of all nights not to wear bluejeans.

Maybe they'll let my hear an echo
of your fingers at a piano on high.

 


One Mom gone

Twelve's a reminder
Mom was a Gemini.

Eleven, for the dreams
she told at breakfast.

Ten for her nails
gleaming bright.

Nine, the months
of pregnancy...

Five, her children.
Four, cups and questions.

Three for the siblings
gathered for seder.

Two for our parents ,
the duo now broken.

One is for Mom
who's still gone.

 


14 Nisan

How many times
will I reach
for the phone
to send you
a photo today?

My sister, cooking.
Your wedding silver
on the tables.
My son burning
last night's chametz...

And when time
comes for the
four questions, I'll
ache to make
a video that

I can't send.
Can I trust
that you're watching
from the place
where you are?

 


No answer

Dad says he visits you
at the cemetery
every day, except
Saturdays when the gates
are closed. (Has

grass begun to grow?
I don't ask.) We agree
you wouldn't care
about the words of kaddish
but it's what we know

to do. He says he's
mad at you for dying
asks again and again why
an incurable lung condition.
I have no answer.

 


Four questions

Will you and your parents sit down to seder on high
on the night when we sit down to seder below?

Who sings the Four Questions, the person in the family
most newly-arrived to the afterlife?

Will you thank the Holy One, Blessed Be God
for lifting you with mighty hand and outstretched arm

out of the Mitzrayim of your bodies,
your illnesses, cancer or dementia or broken-down lungs?

Will you dip parsley in salt water, or are the tears
you cried in this world enough to last you for eternity?

 


Before Pesach

The year your mother died
just before Pesach

I remember my grandfather
at the seder.

He had aged, inexplicably.
He looked lost.

But I don't remember you
that year: were you

grieving, did you struggle?
I was a teenager

and we didn't communicate
much, you and I.

I hope someone asked you
how you were.

I hope someone told you
it was okay

to grieve your father's
diminishment,

to feel her absence like
a missing limb.

I hope there was comfort
in the words, the wine

the songs, the soup --
how though the ground

of your being had shifted,
the seder hadn't changed.