mercredi 6 janvier 2016

Psalms in the Desert (for my mother)

“And he brought up Hadassah, that is, Esther, his uncle's daughter: for she had neither father nor mother, and the maid was fair and beautiful.”

Now that your eyes are gone,
your visual anchors that
brought you to safety,
living alone for twenty years or more
without the jealous husbands and lovers
bewildered by your beauty,
without the Daddies who left you
or the ones you left,
you became wise and strong,
talking out loud to God
in ironic conversations,
--”Who are you talking to, Mom?”
--”To myself! Who else?”
until the lights went out
and your photography was gone
and the books by Karen Armstrong
and all those faces, gone gone
--”Do you realize how much I love faces?”
And more than anything else,
the safety that light brings through the eyes
or at least the illusion of it
is what macular degeneration
took from you.

Your five-year-old girl
wandered door to door in Queens,
asking neighbors to be
invited in for supper
because your mother was out again
schmoozing after work,
and your sister, ten years older
who was more battered even than you,
was locked in her room again,
brooding... so you begged at doors,
and thank God, as you say,
New York was still a village.
You laugh proudly:
You knew when Mrs. Drew had
made another pot roast
and when the neighbor down the block
was frying latkas.
You knew what everyone
was having for supper.

A man appeared a few times
a year and brought you presents,
took you places, restaurants,
Broadway shows or the zoo,
and you never understood
until you were older
who this mysterious uncle was,
Martin Schaeffer,
this man who sold furs in Brooklyn,
and you asked your mother
in your crisis seventeen,
“Why did you never tell me
he was my father?”
and her answer was spit
at you in hatred,
“Because he was a Jew.”

So many questions
leftover from your childhood,
like why your mother Adelaide
and her mother Lydia Broll
spoke Yiddish in the kitchen
under their breath,
why Lydia hid in the closet
every time there was
thunder or lightning,
why these women had no love
for two beautiful daughters.

Your other Daddy was German
and a drunkard too,
but he loved you,
even if he was afraid
to show you too much,
afraid of your mother,
that foul-mouthed lush.
He worked for Ma Bell
and paid for you to take
accordion lessons,
and at six, small as you were
(and I can only imagine it
as you are still small today)
how you lugged that thing
six whole blocks to your lesson
and back again.
And then you played for him
as tears ran down his face:
“Patty,” he would say,
“play it again.”

When he was dying,
unable to breathe through the cancer,
you laid me in a crib and
took care of him.
It was a small price for me to pay,
the debt so big to your Daddy.
Your mother was late to his funeral
late from the hairdressers
and then wouldn't let you ride
in the limousine to the cemetery:
You were devastated.
Many years later, you wrote him an elegy
called “Daddy,”
and even if you gave away
the only copy you had of it,
you can still recite parts of it,
calling him “the Picasso of my
silent nights,”
the tears straining from your chest
every time you try.

How much you have given me,
the things that were
never given to you:
the books, the typewriter,
the encouragement, the cuddling,
the separation, the pain, the becoming.
We didn't have it easy, you and I,
and this long story of two women is
no less poignant than an Italian film
by Vittorio De Sica.
I will be brave in the telling of it,
I will be as courageous as David.
Thus will it rest as a testament
to your faith and your strength
like psalms in the desert.

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