Not one of us was seated at the
table on time, sons dueling over
the turkey leg, daughter insisting
both wings hers, grandpa declaring,
“The best you can get in America,”
all lingering over the apple pies.
We went from frozen bird to fresh,
canned cranberry to orange chutney.
The young off to find lux et veritas,
babies blessed, American Girl dolls
at the table, the best giblet gravy yet.
Our dinner this year wedged
between their friend’s Dim Sum,
the au pair’s city tour, and their
party in town. They and the girls
arriving just in time, toting four
quarts of sweet and sour soup.
Sugar Loaf rose above the sea, San Cristo
stretching his arms to bless the city at dusk.
My uncle escaped to Rio, hid out in
Copacabana, disguised as a poet, wanted
for killing a raiding Cossack with a rock.
He wore a white suit, spectator shoes,
a handkerchief in his breast pocket.
Married a woman who threw a plate
of feijoada across the table at him. Came
to Brooklyn, left pee on our toilet seat,
brought me a doll with blinking eyelids.
I looked into her trusting eyes, watched
her lashes close over lacquered cheeks,
lulled her to sleep as a mother would.
Uncle died an undecorated hero, an
unread poet, unloved by a woman,
his only triumphs, the dead Cossack
and my doll with blinking eyelids.
In the old country, he nibbled the edges
off bread his mama baked to sell while his
papa spent his days bent over ancient texts.
On these shores, father railed at God,
scoffed at Talmudic arguments, held
a lifelong grudge against hunger.
He sat at the kitchen table, reverent over
a bowl of berries, a bit of soused herring,
a ripe cantaloupe. Later, his brain addled,
he thought himself escaping through
the woods, and in the morning, we
found bread crusts under his pillow.
Her lover offers
her a cherry,
plump, pale yellow,
a swath of red,
not too, shape
perfect for the
hollow of mouth,
stem right for
He sets it before
her with his song of
of his heart,
how can she refuse?
Riff on Coupling
You teach the angular melodies of Monk,
Coltrane’s Favorite Things.
I sight a gull balancing on one leg.
You explain treasure trove. I read
The Waste Land as you doze.
You savor sausage biscuits, me the
crunch of morning-after granola.
I value decision, you the
merits of dwelling on a point.
I thrive in bouts of silence, you a
chirping jungle bird.
You favor the viscosity of egg drop,
me, the surprise of sweet and sour.
I dream of floating on the Dead Sea,
you of riding hard on the Pacific swells.
I stomp to the Flamenco. You
attend closely to the strumming.
You snub my Darjeeling, flaunt
your mug of Java.
Well, You Needn’t, as Monk would
say, banging chords on his piano.
[A version previously published on WhenWomenWaken, Spring 2013]
I will chant Dayenu in Temple, perform
a sun dance at the Arapaho hoeihoowu,
travel in the sacred path of Thervada,
who is the master of immeasurables,
place a vodka bottle and a plaid scarf
on the Ovoo near Ulaan Baatar,
swear devotion to Zeus, beg
Athena for the head of Medusa,
give all my possessions away
at next year’s spring Potlatch,
light devotional candles before
Our Lady of Perpetual Help,
as long as you do not get lost
in the warrens of your brain,
as long as you remain you.
She sang her siren-song
bent over the Singer,
knee at the metal lever.
She tried to hug me with
and matching skirts,
velvet bow beneath the
bust, peach dress with
raised white polka dots,
slits down each side.
I spurned her advances
for clothes off-the-rack
like the other girls had.
[Previously published on BoomerCafe.com]