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‘As it is Said’

Elegy to Uncle Jack

“What’s goin’ on around here?”
you boomed into our lake cottage
and the screen door slammed, the yolk sun
quivered in your gas-house eggs, ready
when we clamored down stairs.
You fried up the perch for lunch, liked
your ptcha made from gelatin and calves knuckles,
gefilte fish mixed from the carp
we caught with your licorice dough balls
rolled between our fingers at the pier.
Uncle Jack, you chewed on Cuban cigars
and I remember the odor of our cottage
when you were gone.

I only heard how you heaped your plates
with lox and bagels, silver herring
in cream, sturgeon
and smoked fish flecked gold.

Oldest of seven, you left the house
when your father’s old-country ulcer
burst, married Estelle of the elegant
silver streak in her hair,
and left your four brothers
your striped pants and suspenders,
your mother and two sisters
depression glass and
short of cash.

Legend of the get-rich-quick
scheme, I was told, but
not like your brother,
“High Dollar Dave” — not allowed
in our house for good reason,
Mother said, who could talk
the pants off a deal and did
with cars and women,

who, so charismatic,
could cheat a person twice and did.

You pushed Avantis, fit wigs, swore by bracelets,
sold aloe vera you insisted we rub
into our palms as the new cure all,
plied us with your vitamin pills,
popping in our bellies
like Mexican jumping beans
as we ran for the school bus. 

Peddler to the end,
you drove that broken-down blue Ford
selling table pads, and measured one
for me as a wedding gift, then drove
into our alley to inspect the vines.
Our garden gave up pudgy, ripe
tomatoes to your pull and pail.
As if I were a tomato as a teen
you wanted to squeeze me
and did: “Hello Dear,”
Your wet lips smushed
into mine.
I learned to duck
and dodge at a “ripe” age.

But Uncle Jack, how you crooned
“Embraceable You”
when the spoons chimed the glass
and your daughter kissed her bride
at her lesbian, Jewish wedding.
You stood up and sang even to be thought a fool
by your own brothers shaking their heads.

On High Holidays you sang
from one end of the temple row,
your younger brother from the other.
On a seesaw of notes,
I balanced in between.

As one of ten, at the morning minyan
you counted, as they did on your kitchen savvy
for lox & onion omelets and corn-beef hash.
Uncle Jack, you missed your calling:
ten recipes in the House-of-God cookbook!

Your prowess with knife and fork
renowned, you could eat the world
and you wanted to and did
until your belly grew like Succoh’s moon.
Uncle Jack, what was starving in you?
What you craved might be the answer for us all.

“Hi Darling,” you said
at the last Passover table, hardly able to see
through thick glasses and over
your belly, your Passover plates, circling them
around you like the Israelites encamped in the desert.
“Pass the horseradish, will you, Estelle,” you said, never
missing a word, spooning the hot, rosy relish
on your plate of gefilte fish.
“Sh’ ne’ emar,” you echoed your younger brother
singing at the other end of the table.
“Sh’ ne’ emar.” “As it is said.”