This poem is one of three in Lilith’s “Tisha B’Av Poetry” series, marking the annual day of lamentation that commemorates the tragedies that have befallen the Jewish people. Each poem evokes loss and mourning in its own way. (This year Tisha B’Av—the ninth day of the Hebrew month of Av—begins Saturday evening, July 25.)
Apples, small and cold, in the refrigerator for the family to eat on Saturday afternoons.
Books filling every corner of their apartment
the living room, the study and the balcony enclosed specifically to hold more
books that opened up every inch of me.
Cancer, his and hers.
Torn skin and coughed up breath.
Dears, never names, always an impatient tender dear
ringing out between the walls.
Elegance, snuffed out by dependency and the smell of age.
Fridays in New York City.
New books at Barnes & Noble with Saba and sneaking tastes of dinner behind her back.
Dani and Dahlia, Helena and Cynthia, unknowable parts of us.
Husband covering her broken mind with his; her skin too.
Until it is too late.
He is gone and she is naked.
Inertia – moving with time, moving forward.
Jewelry – the pearls and small diamonds she used to adorn her body.
Clothes decorated with buttons and zippers
instead of those that went on and came off too easily.
Keys, hundreds of keys, my grandfather collected secretly
to doors she didn’t even know were locked
to doors she didn’t know existed.
Language, pieces of speech: English, Yiddish, Russian, Polish, Hebrew.
All the lands, all the tongues, all the thoughts that were once hers.
Movies every Saturday night.
The whole family crowded into Saba’s study with
the red leather couch and black armchair, the footrest
and their favorite classic films passed from one generation to another.
Numbers for the years with my grandfather
for the years lived in that apartment
for all the happiness it had contained.
Orchids, bright yellow, their petals dropping on the coffee table.
Potato Kugel for Shabbat dinner.
Quarters on the bus and the ferry when she, me, and Saba went to see the Statue of Liberty.
Rooms, pink bedrooms with white doors
that she would shut gently at night
so she could get undressed with no one watching.
Seashells in a little glass case in the bathroom
that I pretended were from when she was a young girl on Coney Island.
Toilets and privacy and independence – the most basic parts of herself.
Umbrellas in the rain, feeling the air on her skin
and knowing she is still part of something.
Va Bene, our favorite restaurant.
The pasta e fagioli and tartufo she loved.
Walking, just walking.
X-rays of her knee, torn ligaments and the pain.
All she could feel when she fell was the pain.
You, Savta, the way you were
the person I can almost no longer remember
only when I think hard enough, when I think like this –
Zigzagging through the darkest side of memory.