IV. Webs of Memory
it's like a thunder clap from nowhere,
it pounds you into a hole you knew nothing about.
* * *
Dvorak left Bohemia;
homesick in a new world, he went west
to visit transplanted countrymen, found
to tuck in his symphony about going home.
The stone walls, in the gothic evening gloam,
glow; I can see they’ve been blast-cleaned. The chairs
in downstairs lounges have become bright foam.
The dining hall has added an upstairs.
In the common room, our leather tufted Ches-
terfield’s—a sectional! My Steinway grand
is now a spinet Yamaha; I guess
they wanted room for auditors to stand.
Outside, I look up at a certain win-
dow, fourth floor, south side. How I used to try
not to look up and see if he was in,
his bedlamp on, whenever I passed by.
Transfixed, I shudder but cannot move on.
I slap my face. Twice. Then I blink my eyes
in hopes that those semesters will be gone
again. Before they are, I realize
that I am looking at the wrong window,
that this is not that courtyard! In the glow
I was confused. But do I look for it
a thousandth time to see if it is lit
tonight, years after? No, surprisingly:
For you, with friendly ghosts’ emerging faces—
such brightness from such darkness—usher me
to happier-haunted half-familiar places.
— James B. Nicola
When I look back
I see the fires we built strewn along the edge of the coast
Embers leave enough light to read by
Salt spray whipped our cheeks
And tangled our hair into wild snakes
Young poets, we thought we invented coast, the stars
Drunk on the whiskey of wood smoke and sea tang
We were word artists
But we missed the foreground
We trampled old footsteps
Smashed the heart beat out of their leavings
As they carved paths through the forest
That rings beyond the sea.
Now I hear it all
rush out of the flames: a composition layered by a desperate artist
Who has only one canvas left
I am determined to cipher the language
Created from worlds that bleed through each other
we stand in the force of the waves
Struggling for balance
Each of us holds a few lines
In a lost manuscript
Stretched out at the ocean's edge
We bind a book with our bodies
Through the din
I offer this patchwork prayer
On the altar of old arrogance
The web of memory
The web of memory is a blue-
green tulle studded by glass.
It holds my grandmother
more gently than a spider’s
eggs as she greets me
decades after the death,
Like a bride, I am enveloped
in layers of foamy cloth,
a sea of hope catching
every shade of rainbow
in its shards.
I swim toward the past
healing my niece
along the way,
rescuing my mother
from the war that
swallowed her youth.
I am not walking
to the chuppa alone:
All my kin are humming
an ancient melody
they forgot to teach me.
Never mind, this is not
the time to learn
I need to cry.
All my mistakes
lie before me, all my losses
throb like an aching tooth
while I float forward,
bedecked in blue-green
tulle studded with glass.
My Mother’s House
My mother’s house is gone from here
where I stand not the exact spot which I don’t know
was never told I never asked
but somehow have the village name
which is hard to say after some syllables
got sheared across borders past Hungary’s eastern edge
became Ukraine the language so roughened the burghers broke pens
to spell it broke teeth to say it
chained their leaders changed their dances
though paprika and cabbages still reigned
I’m sure it was near these falling-down hovels she
wedged low in front of a green tall mountain
beside a small river, really a stream so cold
it kept meat fresh from winter to summer.
I can hardly breathe. Why this joy when she is long dead?
This marveling. I know something I never knew before
and still don’t.
But I am here, and whatever of her she left before she left,
that child, those sisters,
the brother that went off to war and came home
addled, the orphan she became, that barefoot life,
what it is to live in snow and planting seasons,
what it is to dig into the earth, milk a cow,
fear soldiers on horses,
drunken neighbors with mouths full of curses,
that’s still here, I feel it, her fear,
I feel her here.
Again your shadow loose in the attic
as if more light could help
coming for old letters, broken frames
not sure what was torn apart
has healed by now, hidden
as sharp corners though you
still expect the some days
to climb alongside and the height
save them –it’s storage work
later work –Esther and you
on a pony that almost remembers the dust
it carried all the way down.
In her old age my mother
started passing out the heirlooms
with the items we claimed placed
in their sacred niche glowing
under the spotlight of our wonder
a slight haze of anxiety
settling around each one
The Vestibule of Heaven
My mother stood as tall as her body
would let her, pushing down on her cane
lifting her head above the flood of disquiet,
stepping up to a higher plain, the solid ground
striding past the sentry at the gates of grief
past the memorials to failure entering
into sovereign treaty with the unknown
gods seated in garish niches along her path
she said to us I want to die
with an I’m-going-to-peel-potatoes tone
It was as though she had taken her seat
in the vestibule of heaven
her wrinkled hands folded in her lap
MOTHER AND DAUGHTER
We begin our late afternoon stroll;
approach the wisteria that twines
about the arbor in full bloom. I marvel
at its scent, its beauty, and want to linger.
She continues down the gravel path.
A young buck, horns covered
in new velvet, steps its delicate way
across the lawn. I whisper his presence
in her ear. A quick look, a quick
dismissal, her mind in latent flight.
I stay my passage; watch the way
he lifts his antlered head to feed
upon the leaves of weeping cherry,
flowers shed just weeks ago.
There falls a final shadow on the day.
I am so alone. What once we
shared—that stillness overwhelmed
by sense and pleasure—is on the brink
of an ending. I, too, like the faintest
wind, begin to shift and slip away.
—Constance Rowell Mastores
the evening ritual:
to my mother
down the purpled carpets
past the potted palms
and wicker chairs
we shuffle, bodies bent,
with eyes that yearn
to see our dead.
a few more empty places
at the tables.
those who stumble back
into the past
no longer dine with us.
yet we who still remember
find scant solace
in the shrimp bisque
or the quiche.
after pecan pie,
the last aide gone,
we huddle in our beds
embraced by night alone
though memory transports us
to the threshold
of those little worlds once ours,
we cannot yet cross over
to the faces, voices, dreams
always beyond our reach.
stranded on the dry shore
of the present,
we sense the gray mist drawing near
and pull the covers tighter.
Lost Brother SearcH
Hours vanish across the horizon
making day again.
Last night it rained and we
traveled the distant country
searching for John, that
missing part of us,
the best no doubt.
What is it to witness the road
running always behind taking away
the best blood of us,
the quick words that told
us ourselves better than
We who lived within your
promises of laughter and the
brother alive and offering
his arms and history
to each of us whatever
How is it this world spreading
the obscene myth of early death,
telling of the breaking apart
of words in the mind
We refuse to believe that.
We choose faith over
dearth of such acceptance
keeping the search going
where gravestone and shroud
Words making of flattened sky
and newly dug soil not loss
but the necessary voice.
Ocean mounts its long surge below
a moon’s passion of wave
of long distance mating,
miracle of motion, perdurance,
past and present merging and not
I have witnessed you Alyssa
you in your searchings your knowings of
spaces of times
You have become my horizon
here where tide and memory carry me
I have seen you make poems from the sea
have attended as you unworded me piece by piece
all the broken nouns the flown apart grammars
love is this you saying
an opening to all the silences
the hiddenness where once
a fever ruled
and now you are gone into the sea forever
and now I stand on the edge of shore
and wave as if to choose
one or the other.
our first child --
may his memory be a blessing --
lived nine lunar and solar weeks
and two days
wonder and loss
beginnings and endlessness
only God seeing the whole horizon.
—Felice Miryam Kahn Zisken
in a container by the doorway
I find dreams
on my way back from a year of grief.
my real self
unburied under shelves of lives
I find the teenager yearning, not understanding
the yuppie mother with the best behaved children,
handles to drawers unopened,
old scraps past their sell-by date
one drawer at a time
I defy these doors and layers
I keep that container open
my dreams unfolded
waving like signal flags
do not hide me away again
I hold them tight
—Mindy Aber Barad
Come on, you ghosts,
you pallid faces—you, who without
pity come dripping in your hair
from sleep—come on, pop me one,
smack on the kisser, dare to make me
believe. Haunt me in the hallways
with your fluttering, see-through vision,
tap me on the shoulder, whisper
in my ear the beauty of innuendos…
Yes, thank you, thank you very much.
That will help to mend
the cleavage between earth and heaven.
Now twirl me around as if you loved me—
that’s it—nice and slow.
Do that cute little dip you taught me once.
Dance with me. Then let go.
—Constance Rowell Mastores