My daughter wonders who you are,
sitting in the small rocking chair
in my study, reading me Rilke and Goethe
you have translated especially for me.
What’s available on my shelves
is not exactly right, you say.
Now you and I have the evening
to rock and swivel among the words
you have chosen for me in English.
The poetry leans back and forth,
it dips round and round, unloosened
well beyond the confines of birthright.
My many sons and daughters
push the edges out of what I know
so, so far that I’m giddy with voices
and all their laughing tongues.
Every time the phone rings
I say to myself, ‘that will be his mother’
and I rehearse what I’m going to say to her:
‘Listen here, you with the funny Spanish name
who isn’t really Spanish
married to the Jewish man
who isn’t really Jewish— just a little.
You think you can phone me up
and in one Bob’s-your-uncle phone call
find out what makes your son tick?
Listen, Mrs. Chiquita-banana-mother—
that little hijo of yours is some
who’s had me on the run for years.
But I was hoping you’d ring.
There’s stuff I want to talk about too,
like his sweet tooth and his sweet tongue,
his cocky way and his wayward cock,
his come-hither look and his slither come,
his fingers, those ten Tinkerbells
of wonderland, lighting all my lights.
What did you think your were doing—
you and that counterfeit husband of yours,
minting a new brand, irresistible man?
Do you think I ever thought of resisting?
Never! It was your darling boy
who buggered off into the sunset— schmunset .
You want to know what makes your son tick?
I’ll tell you Cha Cha Mama! Hot Spanish spices,
Chilli pepper slices— tango, salsa, samba
and bloody Leonard Cohen, slow enough to die from.’
Thugs with flowers came.
There’s no other way to put it.
You know, guys with thick necks,
leather coats and dreadlocks—
lads with tattoos, earrings, shaved heads—
bouncers with barrel chests
and arms which hung down,
gorilla-style, away from their bodies—
muscle-bound, their shoulders tight,
just plain bloody strong.
These hard men with flowers,
stood in the drizzle and talked
about the man they’d loved.
He had taught each one of them
how to let the punches pass.
It was simple really— block, then step aside.
These men together, damp from the rain
and the sweat of a thousand years of training,
put their flowers down and stepped straight in
before they lifted and shouldered the box.
I went to your son’s wedding today
in a carefully chosen outfit.
I wore the kind of dress
an aunt of the groom is supposed to wear,
but I think it was a bit too long.
I had a hat, which slipped slightly
onto my left eyebrow.
I wore brick coloured sandals with straps.
I kissed the people whose lips moved,
shook hands when a hand was extended.
I sat where I saw my name on a card
and spoke only of family connections.
‘The groom is my nephew,’
I said to the mother of the bride.
She was happy enough with that,
scanning my face for resemblance.
People talked to me, remembering you
and I remembered you too.
In fact, as they spoke, I thought I was you,
being me, in a mint cotton dress,
a straw hat and brick coloured shoes.
I wore jewellery and stayed at a proper hotel.
Anyone could reach me there
but later no one phoned.
Remember the yarmulkes,
the chuppa, the Hebrew prayers?
The rockies, the sun, the Colorado jays?
I stayed a spy as long as I could
without slipping or losing myself
in the accents and outfits forever.
You would have fitted in better.
I wish you had impersonated yourself.
At the eye surgeon’s party
I didn’t want to stare or blink too much.
I used only a moderate amount of eye-liner
And decided, finally, against dark glasses.
It was going very well, actually,
When a man I didn’t like began to wink at me.
‘Cut it out,’ I yelled
and was immediately sorry.
I have slipped past a spinning wheel,
a butter churn and a large dog, to sit here
in the bentwood rocking chair beside your bed.
We must be the remains of Early Americans
who look out the windows at bare maple trees
and the sides of barns through slatted blinds.
Winter, snow, the sound of a car from time to time.,
four wheel drive, snow tyres whistling down the road.
The houses are close to the road in rural Vermont .
How else would we ever get out in winter.
The New York Times is spread across your chest,
Vermont Courier at your side, briefcase, papers.
Beside you, cards, letters, flowers, the telephone.
A glass of water is full, the straw has been renewed.
I wouldn’t dream of touching a thing as you sleep.
In the late afternoon, I field a phone call from a friend,
though I am to wake you if they call from the Court House.
State’s rights, Federal law, something about dentists.
The runners of my chair on the braided rug,
rocking, pad the sound of your bound breath.
I’m glad this chair was left so close to the bed.
I wouldn’t want to move the furniture to be close to you.
Our mother’s quilt is bunched a little at your feet,
but for the life of me, I leave it.
The pickles were the best part,
right from the jar, dripping a bit
on the newspapers and leaflets
strewn on the kitchen table.
No need to use a fork, I said.
My finger fit inside and I can
pull one out for each of you.
The vinegar made our lips sting
and both of them wanted more than one.
But the sandwiches and spinach parcels
neatly wrapped in filo dough were eaten
only by us who had brought them from the deli.
No, he said, I’ve had a snack already
and a snooze, sat here in front of the TV
after I’d done a morning’s work in the studio.
My David, he said more than once, as he stroked
the polished features of his son, carved into
mammoth chunks of wood. His house was full of
Davids, other carvings, drawings, mirrors,
paintings, posters, right up to the ceiling.
Then David offered me an almond slice.
You must, he said, eat this.
It’s the best thing the deli has to offer.
And so it was. David and I ate everything.
What more could we want?
Before we left, still in the kitchen,
his father stood up
and held out his arms to me,
and then again at the inner door
and again at the outer door,
so full of art and appetites.
A joy to me, he said, again and again.
My son is a joy.