|Jul/Aug 2001 • Poetry|
the filth box wreaks havoc!
when we welcomed great aunt, we knew she was bringing
more than a chest full of aging photographs
and those woody scones we had heard so much about.
and this knowledge seasoned over the two years of her stay.
you see, there it stood:
in a silence, a wooden box with a sealed green face.
brought to life, however, it became explosive with sound.
wait! not so fast! this ritual required its own preparation.
first, father had to be diverted with holy task.
but also great aunt had to be buried in albums and envelopes.
then and only then could children enter the world of
and other exotica banal and mesmerizing.
you see, when jan dreamed of marcia's fall,
we too were affected. we knew that something had to be done.
and so gradually mother came to sin.
with us, it was to smile with indulgence.
but soon it was the two women upstairs alone
and sulking, we were forced to rely upon hearsay
of revenge and lust and burning antebellum mansions.
and then even this changed.
spying through the keyhole into the hall of instant cash (if only the tune could be named),
we grew quiet as mother named them all:
golden oldies and big bands
and crooners so smooth we thought we would never stop sliding.
here crouched a vast encyclopedic repertoire,
a compilation of impure erudition that had no relationship
to the daily exhibition of housecoat and psalm.
i squeezed sister's hand and looked across the abyss at a woman
who had dreamed of night clubs and may even have seen tuxedoes.
and i thought who is this woman?
she can't possibly stay.
figure prostrate on tishebov* stone
while the second temple burned,
while the jews huddled in lament,
mother stared into a smaller flame.
even in the narrow of the last august rain,
the flame soared persistent into beads of corn and careful salmon:
the feast after the fast.
its concentration refused to be touched by the
return of men who collapsed into sticky beds
and napped under the maps of their blank hunger.
and as the flames against the holy edifice grew more furious,
and the desecration more lurid—pigs and swastikas—
mother found she had to put the food aside,
to forego the solitary light.
she had to hurry to shelter by the side of the road,
under the kitchen table.
she needed to lie prostrate,
biting into the wooden columns,
in order to avoid the oncoming hooves of the terrified horses.
*tishebov: the Jewish calendar date of the destruction of both temples marked by mourning and fasting.