His No Longer Coy Mistress
Note from Alvin
Labor Day has come and with it
preparations for the Fall term.
I gather with my fellow father-daughter
teams, in the parking lot of the off-campus
dormitory. It fits the standard mold--
converted decaying mansion, charming
molding on long narrow staircases,
many strange-shaped subdivided rooms,
many floors. An elevator? Illegal in a dorm.
I follow the fatherly routine--drag box
after box up 4 flights of steps, while daughter
triages below and in her yellow room.
There’s that tilted lamp, the tattered futon,
the pile of bricks. Many rest pauses later,
we assemble that crap into bed, dresser, night table,
book cases. My father always managed
to stay uninvolved these occasions when I was a kid.
I used to resent this. Now I admire and envy him.
I’m so deeply involved in all this stuff. And yet,
when advice is sought, I’m so seriously ignored.
next ~ to
Knishes with Dad
This is an era when aerobics
cholesterol is “fine”
in the hundreds, life so often ends
with sudden stabbing
chest pains. Father,
engaged all his life
in a fight against obesity,
pauses between rounds.
he reaches down for
my hand, leads me
to our secret club--the
The four block trek
is ample to trigger my saliva,
set my stomach aroar.
Father seats me at a bare
enameled table, my short
legs swinging. I shake loose
sawdust that clings
to my shoes from our walk
across the floor tiles--like
in our bathroom.
Smoke of overbaked dough
is stirred through the room
by lazy ceiling fans.
“Kasha, cheese? What will it be?”
What a question.
I crave kasha grains,
gray, flecked brown,
spiked with onion shreds.
Father craves cheese
over a cherry lining.
I run small fingers
over multiple green
paint layers coating
plaster defects, await
He’s balancing two plates,
a porcelain crock--
home made sour milk.
His favorite. Right.
I noticed dozens
of them cranked up
from somewhere on the
Too sour for me.
“Wait until you’re older.”
He skims the crust,
licks his spoon
like mom’s icing ladle.
My fork slips so easily
into thin knish shell,
allows kasha vapors
to burst free.
I saw off a soft edge, bite-sized for me,
scoop it, lower my head
to meet the fork.
No need for idle talk.
Everything is perfect
in this perfect world.
next ~ to
next ~ to
What should have been announced
by wailing of a siren, slipped by
as a whisper in the night.
The pallor of your skin matched
the cream of your crib linen.
It seemed as if peace had descended
on you--our sleeping infant.
It seemed as if some gracious hand
had calmed your membranous lids
had settled their gentle tremor.
No more restless movements.
Breezes no longer teased
white crests into the waves.
And this calm--when did it evolve
into terror? After that forever moment
when I lay my head against your breast
heard its hollow silence?
After the frantic pressing of my mouth
to your so miniature lips?
Or only after all had come and gone,
while we finally stood embracing
beside your empty crib, when we recognized
the new vacancy that filled our lives?
To His No Longer Coy Mistress
~ to top
I know, my dear, that you make perfect sense.
Alas, these brief crescendo passion moments
never measure up to scenes we dreamt
while in our years of youthful innocence.
How frivolously we would sacrifice
for (what once seemed to us) an endless love.
...What wouldn’t we expend to find some mate,
to run hot fingers underneath cloth’s ice,
to slide between the creases of moist skin...
But you are right, my dear. It doesn’t shock
me when we’re done, to realize the dials
have barely budged between the starting line
until the final tape. I share your scorn.
And yet I say, my dear, restart the clock.
This courtyard is different--designed
around a driveway--drop-off point
for ambulances, rimmed by a sidewalk
too narrow for benches, perfect
for wheelchairs. Here patients
stretch out functioning limbs, whir
around with abandon. Outside hospital doors,
they laugh at medical rules, ridicule
people they’ll soon summon
to carry them, change their sheets.
Here they’re all equal--forever damaged.
Patients who weathered radiation,
cancer operations--share forbidden butts.
A brain injured boy talks about weather
with a gray haired woman who thinks
it’s always winter. They compete for affection
of pigeons with shreds of bread
from bathrobe pockets. A mother
soothes her twisting son, tries to stop him
from pummeling his helmeted head.
Aphasic patients forget race, religion
toss contrapuntal syllables back and forth.
The art of the mime reigns supreme.
This is the courtyard for the chronic in-patients,
their narrow asphalt turf of freedom.
Discrete nurses stay out of hearing range.
Doctors pass with a simple wave or nod.
It’s these “others” who enter the courtyard
who find the air slightly chilled.