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.

 


My third bicycle

My first bicycle was hot pink.
When I was eight and skipped PE
for weeks on end you hired coach
to tutor me. She taught me

how to catch a frisbee,
not flinch from a softball,
ride a bike without training wheels.
My second was electric blue

and I rode it barefoot around
the curves of Contour Drive
past magnolia and honeysuckle
with wind in my hair.

When I grew hips I put the bike away.
I felt like a galumphing goose
next to you, perfect petite
size zero sparrow.

By college when my boyfriend
invited me to bike across Nantucket
I demurred, sure he wouldn't
want me if he saw me huff and puff.

But I remember your red Schwinn
with a tiny seat bolted to the back
for me. I remember the freedom
of skimming along Contour

once I was old enough to go
further than you could see.
Mom, today I bought a bicycle.
It's black and sturdy, German,

a bike for a middle-aged woman.
When I go riding with my son
I'll say a shehecheyanu. Maybe
I'll feel you perched behind me.

They say the body never forgets
these old motions. I wouldn't mind
forgetting how to resent
every ounce and inch

that made me not like you.
From where you are now
can you teach me how to thank
this clunky, sturdy frame?


This earth our home

When the house lights went down
I started to cry. It's just
a third grade concert -- songs

about "this earth our home"
with canned accompaniment
and four third-grade classes

fidgeting on the risers -- but
you'd have loved it. Of course
his whole life you were too sick

to travel to see him shine.
It wouldn't have occurred to him
to expect you there, but

I would have texted you a video
the minute I got to the car.
You'd have watched it later

when you woke up, when you felt
up to checking your phone.
You would have sent a string

of celebratory emojis. You'd have
laughed that he knows already
how to make a mike stand taller,

praised his stage presence...
I wiped my eyes furiously, hoping
no one noticed the ridiculous mom

in the second row who was moved
to tears by songs about recycling.
This is how I send you video now,

Mom: these poems I don't know
if you can hear from where you are,
this earth no longer your home.


Bedtime

Tonight at bedtime
a distraught boy.

A stuffed animal
left at grandma's.

He keeps searching,
saying "Sealie? Sealie?"

The thing is,
Mom, he says,

you don't know
what it's like

to have loveys
who really matter.

My brown bear
and red dog

are both gone,
but I know

how it feels
to love helplessly

from afar. When
we invoke angels

surrounding, we ask:
look after Sealie?

The same way
that last night

I asked them
to accompany you.

 


Dance class

Parent observation night
at the dance school.

I caught my son with my camera
in an idle moment

running his hands through his hair.
He looked like a teenager.

When I was nine
I still threw my arms

around your neck, but by fourteen
I kept my distance.

We no longer spoke
the same language. Maybe

I'll be spared that: we're not
mother and daughter, he and I.

(As far as I know. Yes, Mom,
his gender expression is up to him.

Don't roll your eyes. Like God
he's becoming who he's becoming.)

But if he grows
to mistrust me, I hope

I live long enough
to make it to the other side

as you and I made it
to the other side

even though I know
you'd be relieved to know

he's not the only boy
in his dance class this year.

 


Trivia

The envelopes would arrive at random:
filled with clippings, sometimes

highlighted in yellow, with a Post-It
reading "Trivia From Mom." Dear Mom:

here's some trivia from the living.
I refilled a prescription today, and

picked up the dry cleaning. I've been
wearing your cashmere shawl

on cold days -- believe it or not
we still have those. My son

practices the Four Questions nightly
before bed, earnest and sweet.

Do you remember typing them
on your IBM Selectric for me,

transliterated -- one of my brothers
must have sung them to you --

so I could sing them before I knew
Hebrew? You'd be proud of him.

For a while I was afraid
we'd left one of his dress shoes

in Texas at your funeral, but
it turned up at his father's house.

I can go hours at a time, forgetting
that it hurts that you're gone.


Request

There's a lot of death
in those poems, you say to me.
How about something
a little brighter?

Isn't it spring yet where you live?
Talk to me about tulips
like the ones that nod
in bright even rows down Fifth Avenue.

Talk to me about
department store windows,
or that lime-green bag
you took from my closet.

Your friend who's divorcing:
what's her new house like?
Tell me about the red buds
on the tips of the maple

or my grandson's new haircut
that makes him look thirteen.
Tell me something about the world
that will make me miss being alive.


Jetlag

When I come home from the cemetery --
tradition says put a pitcher and basin
outside, so when the mourners return

they can wash themselves clean. It's not
about the dirt. It's emotional, it's
spiritual, like washing that man

right out of your hair. When I came home
from burying you, those first hours were
like jetlag: what day is it? where am I

again? I remember the silver pitcher
we placed outside dad's front door (your
front door, but not yours any longer.)

But when I come home from the cemetery
not as a mourner but as the rabbi
I take the hottest shower I can stand.

I anoint myself with honey and lavender,
breathing deep. This is being alive, scent
and sensation. I let go everything

I've been carrying. It's still
a kind of jetlag: the soul catching up
with where the body has already been.

I wonder how long it took for your soul
to release from your body, that empty
shell we buried in the Texas earth.

When you wake in olam haba and finally
feel you've arrived, is it like
the first morning a new time zone is home?

 


Reminds me

2019: the year I did back to back funerals after we buried you.
How long will it be before those words stop feeling strange?

This time the day was wet and raw, like your funeral was.
This time there were two daughters grieving, but I wasn’t

one of them. Except I still am, sometimes. It depends
on what song comes on the radio, what phase the moon.

Today when we read psalm 23 aloud I remembered my sister
leaning over to whisper, "'my cup runneth over,' Mom used to

say that all the time!" It made me smile. You
make me smile, even at a funeral that reminds

me of yours, reminds me — everything reminds me —
of you.

 


New friend

Today I thought of you
as I listened to two women
tell stories about their mother,

a tiny woman
with a spine of steel
who was always "put-together."

I imagine the two of you
meeting at a mixer
for newly-arrived souls.

In my vision you're both
young again, glamorous,
coiffed and manicured.

You're both carrying copies
of the handbook to the afterlife
but you'd rather sip vodka tonic

and make a new friend
than read it. That's okay:
you'll both learn the ropes.

How to be "there" (it isn't
a place exactly) while also
keeping an eye on here.

How to visit our dreams
and tell us everything
you couldn't say in life

or maybe it was we
who couldn't hear, but
Mom, we're listening now.

 


Birthing

Four days before the end.
Morphine under your tongue.

You kept asking,
"When will it stop hurting?"

Reminded me of labor:
how the contractions kept coming.

I pleaded, "I can't do this."
When the epidural brought relief

I apologized to the nurses
for being boring.

How we learn to say sorry
for what's not ours to carry...

But Mom, I still carry this:
I'm sorry I said no

to your presence
when my son was born.

I wanted it to be intimate,
"just the two of us."

I understand now how it hurts
to be far away

when someone you love
this much is suffering.

You could have
witnessed the moment

when they placed him
wide-eyed on my chest.

Your pain is over now
but when I remember

shutting you out
I ache.

 


Challah, Take Two

It started during winter break.
A snowy day, with nightfall too soon

and no playdate in sight: I said
let's bake challah!

Can you make it round
like Rosh Hashanah? he asked.

Instead I tried a six-branched spiral
meant to evoke the returning sun

(though my son saw a star
of David there instead.)

When it emerged from the oven
golden and gleaming

he gasped, and after motzi
proclaimed it so much better

than what we buy at the store,
and that sealed it:

the next Friday I found a way
to start the dough

when I poured his cereal,
to knead it while he watched

YouTube before school, to pop
home at lunchtime to shape...

I would have told you this story
that last Shabbat of your life

but that morning was a fog
of morphine and anxiety

and when you emerged that evening
miraculous in your wheelchair

it wasn't the right time.
I should have known

there wouldn't be another.
But I can tell you now

that even in weeks when grief
is more than I can bear

there is comfort in kneading
this silky egg dough,

singing healing songs for all
who will eat, for all who ache.

 


Goldfinch

Mom, I bought a new piece of art
I wish I could show you.
There's a goldfinch, encircled
by crocheted six-pointed stars.

It makes me think of home,
of nest, of tradition's weave
that comforts me. I wonder
if you'd note the bird's alone.

Yes, I feel alone in grieving.
Maybe we all do, in the end --
even when a crowd gathers
for a memorial like yours.

Surely as Pesach approaches
everyone in the family feels
your absence, like the empty space
surrounding this one little bird.

There's a lot of empty space
surrounding this one little bird.

 

with gratitude to Heather Robinson

 


Dirty laundry

When I'm chastised
for not focusing

on happy things
as you instructed

shame swamps me,
a sunken rowboat.

Failing you again:
airing in public

the dirty laundry
that is my heart.

Why persist in
feeling so many

feelings, especially all
the ugly ones --

grief that lasts
for hours, leaving

me gasping, spent
on a rocky shore?

Wouldn't everyone be
happier if I

stopped?

 


Kintsugi

Today a giant cardboard box arrived.
Ceramic plates that once were yours,
adorned with hand-drawn faces --

service for six, in theory.
But inside the bubble-wrap,
one plate's in pieces.

You'd shrug and throw it away, but
it's such an obvious metaphor.
I look on eBay but there's no replacement.

There's a space in my china cabinet
where a pair of women's faces should be
in conversation. I try to glue it

though my son rolls his eyes: "Mom, you know
there's no repairing a broken heart."
He's right. It can't be what it used to be.

What can I do but paint broken places
gold? I can't hide my cracks.
All I can do is make them gleam.


 

kintsugi is the Japanese art of adorning broken pottery with gold. I've written about it before. (See also Everything breaks. It's what we do with the pieces that matters at The Wisdom Daily.)