The ways we are

A flickering in the kitchen.
Of course.
What else did I expect?
Closed my eyes; must have slept.
Like a ghostly telephone
rrringing in my head
as the heavy, black
night table phone had rung out,
three years ago,
three-thirty a.m.,
three paralyzing rings.

(If only I hadn’t picked up,
whispered hello, thinking
what’s the worst, what’s the most
If only it had been
a wrong number:
Excuse me, but
my father is sleeping safe
beside my mother, in Queens.)

The worst the most terrible:
She hearing something herself,
brief struggle in the body,
or the ratcheting last breath,
and finding you dead there
in your sleep, in their bed.
Mother’s Day morning.
And still disbelieving,
she dialed my number
listened to it ring
as I did
three long rings
before I dared to answer.

But now,
startled by another, more inward
I’m instantly on my feet
in the dark bedroom,
ready for anything,
more than ready (I realize)
even to greet you,
to meet whatever the ceremony may
have summoned.
The candle flickers, flares,
as before.
The shadows on the walls,
mine among them,
are kitchen shadows.
nothing more.
This flame is likened to the soul.
But you aren’t here; you’re gone,
three years now, maybe this very
in which I recall more moments
than my mind can hold.
The linoleum is ice against my bare
chilling me to the heart.
I wrap my hands around the crude
glowing glass,
something to hold onto, any light, heat.

To say I still miss you
I have acknowledged;
I accept. I do. Daddy.
My life goes on.
Thoughts of you aren’t so stabbing;
they’re duller daily blows now.
But these anniversaries,
arbitrary, even artificial,
always seem to hold out,
then withhold, hope,
again, again and again.

Though I don’t believe,
I lit the candle myself this year.
It will burn all day tomorrow
and into the next night.
Year’s time:
Private rituals
realizing, surviving, loss.
I’ll wear the silver wristwatch
you brought back for me
from one of your concert tours;
I’ll make some notes with your silver
bar mitzvah pen.
Sometime during this day
a clarinet will certainly sing
somewhere else,
the perfect prayer,
made to our measure.
(After all,
you only murmured
Yis gadol
once, for Nanny.
And me, I’ve lost
my collection of crib cards
from Schwartz Brothers, Inc.)

So listen,
wherever you are,
Next year. . .
(l’shanah ha-ba’ah) . . .
Next year in the kitchen!
(As they say,
though usually in slightly
different words.)
Same day,
same time,
same hopeful hocus pocus:
How about it?
I’ll be waiting,
candle bright.
against my darkness,
seeking your light

Susan Volchok’s short fiction has been anthologized in Word of Mouth 2 (Crossing Press); this fall her novella, Sam’s Girl, is being released on audiotape.