Towers: Century City, L.A.
We have traveled across a continent to this expectant ocean,
to these towers
which rose from the guts of immigrants, from the chutzpah
for whom the stars in the sky were not enough. They had to be
defined, stood up to
with a platinum Jean Harlow.
On a crescent-curved balcony, 15 floors above
The Avenue of the Stars,
6 lanes of multi-colored metal traffic zipping back and forth,
in the middle a strip designed
not only to divide cars North and South but to entertain the traveler,
its eye of concrete,
grass, and lily-shaped spigots projecting water skyward,
cadenced kick of shush, shush, shush rocketting
over the rumble of motors, we are waiting for a birth, the birth
of our first grandchild,
the third generation conceived in this new world where—
imagine it—the grandchild of a Rabbi
meets a Pakistani Muslim, they fall in love no matter what
we fear, and they will
have a baby whose name will be as old as
And I will plant a garden with flowers for his eyes
because I will not be here,
because I want to give him a ground of many colors: coreopsis,
black-eyed susans, my father’s dahlias,
Mama’s herbs—seeds lifted by the wind or beaks of birds
flying over time zones, oceans.
Last night I dreamed I watched for hours a baby’s babbling
and twisting, babbling
and shifting, when suddenly he spoke—“Bon, bon” and then
“Good, good”—two languages!
Heavenly labials in a world of gutturals. In this city of the angels
which may fall
at any moment, I take as blessing the two-ness of his speech,
believing it will save him.
He didn’t have to ask. It felt exotic.
I was a wife with books
for how to cook and how to
organize a closet. Keeping kosher
was the embellishment, the trope,
the heightened form I set
to make of ordinary life
a drama. For him it was just
ordinary life, the ease of his God
bless you. It didn’t do, and
leaving the butcher one day,
I refused to continue.
“’Tis the breed of lighthouse keepers,”
she laughs, the innkeeper
giving me to understand
why I stay up past midnight
writing, searching the shelves,
taking him by the fire.
A blow-in I am,
settling into an Irish idiom.
’Tis the breed of Semites,
perpetual nomad I am,
finding myself in a Catholic
land, suddenly brazenly
Jewish. Even Hopkins
sounds Jewish, skewed syntax
my parents’ broken English—
Leaves, like the things of man, you
with your fresh thoughts care for,
can you? I can. In air
I can live like a book
moving from there to here.
Only travel to arrange,
turning the pages.
“Do you miss your husband?”
No, not in this parlour,
throwing more peat on the fire.
Turf. Contentious word
feeding me light.
A friend reminds me of my husband’s words
“I pondered my heart”
the night before our daughter’s wedding.
Could he really have said pondered?
Strange word, and yet, exact, the weighing
of his love, the way he thinks of worth,
then acts on it. He’d labored over giving
his yes to her, his first child, married beyond
his ken, to a Muslim. Here, there,
he sought advice—how can I say Yes?
A woman from Africa said, “Talk to
an ancestor.” And from his cry his father
heard. This man, a rabbi from a time
rabbis educated, chanted, circumcised and slaughtered,
spoke to his son: “Hershelle,” he said, “trust her.
The world changes. Learn to change with it.”
All of us heard those words—my friend still remembers—
of love passed on, the breath of generation.
Passion Flower on a New York City Rooftop
for Alice and Carmen
As a tight, two-inch green thing it begins,
a few mauve stripes along its length. All summer
before I rushed off to the streets,
buds along the terra cotta pillar
climbed, while I was eating breakfast, and
always there was one bud opening.
Today I’m lucky to have another chance.
Summer’s over. It’s October 6th, 83 degrees,
and I am eating on the roof
near one passion flower opening.
All the way.
I mean white purplish tinted petals
backwards like arms
eager for a lover—
Look at all I have to give you.
Deep inside, purple hairs edged black
are circling, and still
that’s not the end of it—
within the center of that circle
a purple nub sends up a wheel
of pale green T’s
from which a black Y glistens.
In silence. You have to look to see
such absolute articulation, so much desire.
Before the Next Conversation
We wash the dishes. Quietly.
Somehow this loquacious man
knows it’s time for silence
as if by heart he senses
when to take a break
before the next conversation
Once it was recess, the break
we took which I hear
schools no longer
make room for. Space
scares the staff, that silly jumping,
the freedom to be simply
You see how it happens.
I said we were washing dishes,
then I let the words wander
and they ran, confusing my wanting
to be with him, washing dishes
quietly, with the water
The New Lover
before my sister-in-law died,
from months of illness, she begged
to make love to her. She who was
to merge with trees
needed to press up against one.
After forty years
my husband has no tree for me, but
he has mottled flesh
which could be earth. With brandy
in two snifters,
torch songs telling our bodies remember,
we bare ourselves
to the velvet sofa better than the bed
we hunker in,
seldom to touch, and we begin to
stroke, our bodies
dulled for anything but winter. Tonight
it thrills me
with its absolute clarity: we
will come to
ask nothing of each other
and that nothing
keeps us standing eye to eye,
turning into sister-brother,
the taboo of them.
Cross that line to cross another.
I’m beginning to play footsy
with the ground,
thinking of its weight on me.
I’m not here right now
but if you’ll leave
your name and number
I’ll get back to you
as soon as I can.
It’s Walter, his home,
only it’s a cell inside his dresser
and he’s in it. Dead
two months now, yet
his wife is keeping him alive.
We can do that.
Keep a voice next to us,
an unsick, bike-riding,
Keep him twice.
On his cell. On his toes. Ready
to call back as soon as
hear him again
so clear I
leave a message—
Dear cousin, call me. I’m here.
The Ocean and the Kitchen
When Woolf walked into the river
with her pockets full of stones,
she wasn’t afraid of the river.
On Fishers Island the waves
invited me in, they were
like ink, brimming blue-green,
and I could become the pen
to receive their color.
deep, without fear, I thought of this
and, though I would not,
there was a sense in my body
of submission, the way it will want to
give up, someday, gasping
for breath and ease itself
into the elements.
Fire is not for that,
maybe earth, but it is so brown—
I kept thinking water
until I turned ...
the house, the women
had come back from Race Point
and the lamps were on.
After the Massage
It was the wing
Its trace beneath/
beside the shoulder bone
sent a flutter
through me, down
in between my legs
from a thing no longer there,
of once we flew,
once there was a bird
a humming bird
the voices in our house—
who lived 11 years
I am the vestige, the smartass
seven times eleven.
There is a price
for such a rub. I gladly pay
and leave a tip.
Nothing’s free. Not me,
not the boatman
rowing toward me. So far
he’s out to sea.
And as his hands stroke
hour by hour
my body wants the breeze—
my bra’s off
for the wind—please not the wasp—
to touch me.
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