The Deronda Review
Mss. Shylocks’ House (Under New Management)
“…My house is a decayed house,
And the jew squats on the window sill, the owner …”
-- T.S. Eliot, “Gerontion”
Bukowski spit: “Most publishers
thought that anything boring had something
to do with things profound.
I carried the Cantos
in and out and Ezra helped me strengthen
my arms if not my brain...”
A purer poet than Ezra,
T.S. placed second in the pound-of-flesh grammar school.
To reckon with Fascist “Eliot” concerns,
parsing my grandson’s name, I insisted on an extra L.
Now working out Spanglish sounds big Eliot’d judge mongrel,
little Elliot wasn’t around to know my little Mommy...
Owner gone, treasure hunt done, pleasure sifted from trivia
and pain, for sixy-one years this daughter’s anarchitecture
was ruled by a shrew/saved by a saint.
Dishrags on our heads, both chained to the fridge,
laying on the wood, Mom hauled me over the coals ‘til dinner
then served up brisket and latkes while she ate from an empty plate.
Unsteady diet of dread and beauty,
some days we made daisy chains, wrapped peonies in crayoned paper.
Some evenings the ice queen
rubbed our tongues in lime, chopped baby’s bashful bangs
to the music of silence, shut a cashbox holding the lockets
then blotted my forehead with a chamois. Others Mother
kissed my wrist where she’s tattooed, healed me with egg cream
and sherbet while we caught fireflies in mason jars. Cocooned,
rarely seeing the light, the vampire spent Wednesdays in a casket
of potholder-lined drainboards that screamed, “They’re coming!”
Among herds of bag lady survivors, garbage pail nights compelled
her flashlight glasses to scavenge the streets while moaning a mantra,
“Bloodland peons covered us in mud, carved Pop’s Torah into boots
as we went barefoot. Father warned, ‘I’m headed East, one way ticket
into nothingness, keep your chin up, Sweets – and don’t marry German.’”
On and on it went - sealed boxcar names unable to bathe or shave,
turds and rot, bubbles and gurgles, horror story rigmarole
about scrounging three Dachau jobs to make ends meet.
Combustible coordinates abruptly left alone, out of the blue
gas ovens come haimish merriment. F-U-N-E-X? S-V-F-X. O-K-M-N-X!
Have You Any Eggs? Yes, We Have Eggs. OK, Ham and Eggs!
Angular to the universe, bulbs broke, fuses blown, meter reader quit
coming, the short-circuited hermitage mirrors its once bright owner.
Traipsing walker and broom room-to-room, her bones scoured,
made do and mended, tightened faucets.
Hoarded beets perished in drawers of recycled oilcloth before austerity
was all the rage. Stabbing her calluses with a packet of pins,
mumbling how nuns’ sacred hearts knocked the stuffing
out of clothespins; sauerkraut rest of the week, the washerwoman
convalesced on Shabbes, splurged one boiled yolk in a thrift store
bathrobe (the one I held onto), from whose marsupial pouch
hung a barbed wire key. Three stars in the sky, she’d need it Sunday
to deadbolt Stalin’s mustaches in a labyrinth of tripe.
Palate cleanser between courses, cellos sway from the ceiling
like hams. The grand piano that her prodigy melodies once graced
now decays into sawdust.
A wheelchair wheezes in the airshaft. Crows zip
up the chimney like her twin sister, hundred grudges on fire.
Eels perch on the Victrola, worms ooze through the turntable.
House down to varnish riddled with cracks, its skin sags
with the soot of her century. Once she told me I caused her tsuris
during childbirth and every second since. Once she said I was adopted.
Here for a last visit, no siblings to scrap with completing the vigil,
a sepia photo labeled, “Tzippy, 1908 - Birkenau 1944” jumps to life.
The rest are tagged for a penny-pinching yard sale.
Fleeing to the office where dark days I sought lap comfort --
glass of schnapps, bowl of borscht, mortgages on his desk --
Dad kaput, I stiffen my vertebrae but can’t find the backbone to leave.
Dream tenants in escrow, a workman arrives, "Por favor,
Seńora, can I take that chair, finish the inventory, sweep up,
lock the door before the next people? Tú tienes las keys?
- Gerard Sarnat