And now for something completely different

When I was in elementary school I wrote poetry. I did it for a number of reasons. First and foremost, it was assigned by the teacher. I think there was a unit on poetry in each grade. But, there were other reasons, too. When I wrote a poem, I got positive feedback from the teacher and from my family, particularly from my mother and Zada. I responded to that encouragement by getting more interested in poetry.

As a child I liked reading poetry, too. Thanks to my mom, I grew up exposed to Robert Louis Stevenson’s A Child’s Garden of Verses, among others. I remember checking poetry anthologies, along with fairy tales and Betty Cavanna books, out of the school library.

Zada, who hadn’t graduated from high school, appreciated the written word. I was in 4th or 5th grade when he asked me to type up my poems so he could keep a copy. I think there were about five poems on two pages. He took them from me, folded them up and put them in his wallet. I believe he shared them with friends and family. He would pull the pages out every so often to remind me that he still carried them. I think he still had them when he moved to Florida.

When I reached junior high school I had stopped writing poetry. I stopped writing creatively entirely. I’m not sure what happened. Maybe I stopped getting positive feedback. I don’t know if it is coincidence, but I stopped at the same time that my acute self-consciousness fully flowered. I was paralyzed by doubt. I periodically wrote in a journal during that time, but I was totally unwilling to share anything.

I didn’t write another poem, or share any of my writing, until a little over a year ago. As part of the first writer’s workshop that I took after I retired, we were asked to produce some poems. During that intensive four-day workshop, which was led by a poet, we were asked to not only write poems (and prose, too), but to share it with the group! Much to my amazement I was willing and able to do it. And nothing terrible happened – I didn’t die of embarrassment. It was liberating.

After that workshop, I focused on writing the stories I’ve been sharing on this blog. Lately, though, I have found myself writing prose that I think may be borderline poetry. I don’t know the definition of poetry, but what I’ve been writing is different than the narratives I’ve been posting.

Since this is my blog, and I am experimenting with my writing, I thought I would take a risk and put something different out there. So here goes…..two poems for your consideration.

 

 

[Note: I can’t figure out how to post the poems single-spaced! If anyone reads this far and knows how to do this on WordPress, let me know! Thanks]

Morning Ablutions

Pop out of bed

I’m late

I have nothing to wear

Fling open my closet

Pull out a drawer

Toss stuff on the bed

Settle on a trusty t-shirt and jeans

Into the bathroom

Run a pick through my hair

Brush teeth, rinse mouth

Grab my backpack

Head out to the bus

 

I stumble half-awake into her bedroom

Shhh, shush, it’s okay, little one

I lift her and hug her to my chest

She settles a bit

I carry her to the changing table

Tickle her belly with my nose

Remove the wet diaper

Wash and dry, sprinkle some talc

Put on a fresh one

Pick her up and bring her to the kitchen

Into the high chair

Some cheerios to munch

Yawn as I whisk her eggs.

 

Open my eyes

Reach for my glasses and I-phone on the night stand

Look at the time, peruse email, scroll Facebook

Nothing of interest

Sit up and put my feet on the floor

Get my legs under me

Shuffle to the bathroom, working out the kinks

Shake out the pills

Take some water, throw back my head and swallow

Apply moisturizer (with sunscreen) to my face and neck

Brush teeth

Throw on yoga pants and sweatshirt

Head downstairs for coffee

_______________________________________________

Rosh Hashanah 

Rosh Hashanah 1991

We enter the sanctuary

Before us a sea of curly dark hair

Dotted with white yarmulkes

Blue next to gray next to brown suit

White tallit draped across shoulders

Heads turn to note our entrance

I shift Daniel in my arms,

Grasp Leah’s little hand

Murmur “sorry” as we climb over congregants to

Settle into seats

We wait to hear the shofar usher in the new year.

 

Rosh Hashanah 2016

We enter the sanctuary

Before us small clusters of people

Sprinkled throughout the huge hall

Bald and graying heads

Covered by white yarmulkes

Gray, navy and black suits

Stooped shoulders beneath tallit

Heads turn to note our entrance

I follow Gary to the front section

We settle into our seats

We wait to hear the shofar usher in the new year.

 

 

A Godfather Seder

Note: Though I originally posted this two years ago, I thought it was appropriate to re-share it. I hope you enjoy! Zissen Pesach, and/or blessings of the season to all!

Photo on 3-31-18 at 11.48 AM

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Jewish holidays were associated with certain traditions when I was growing up. Horrific traffic was often part of it.

Rosh Hashana was celebrated by going to Aunt Simma’s house in Port Washington for a family dinner. We battled the traffic on the Long Island Expressway. My father never learned to cope with it despite being a life-long resident of Brooklyn – he may have invented road rage. All of us in the car tried to become invisible, silently shrinking into our seats so as not to increase his wrath. We tried to ignore his steady stream of invective. My mother would make excuses for the poor choices of the other drivers. After someone cut us off, she might suggest, ”Maybe his child has a stomach ache and he’s just trying to get home faster.” Somehow this didn’t help.

Traveling ever so slowly to Long Island, I would look out as the houses changed to single family, larger homes with lovely landscaping. Arriving in Port Washington it seemed a different world from my own with its dirty sidewalks, postage stamp-sized lawns and multifamily, attached homes.

Although Rosh Hashana is a high holiday on the Jewish calendar that for many meant hours in synagogue, our celebration was an excuse to gather as a family and have traditional foods like chicken soup, brisket and noodle kugel.

Passover meant dealing with the traffic on the West Side Highway in Manhattan. Aunt Diane’s apartment was on West 104th street between Broadway and West End Avenue. In those days, when New York City was the murder capital of the world, each block was a different neighborhood. 104th west of Broadway was safe, 103rd east of Broadway wasn’t. Gentrification wasn’t even a concept yet. One thing remains the same – looking for parking was, and is, a nightmare.

Their apartment, on the 16th floor, was overheated so the windows were open. I would stand in front of the window in the bathroom and look out at the city – listening to the traffic and sirens, feeling the cool air, looking at the lights, imagining the lives in the apartment buildings across the way – I relished the feeling of being both removed from and in the midst of the energy of the city.

One Passover seder in particular was memorable – not really for the seder itself, but for what my family did afterwards.

The seder was a long, involved affair, filled with ritual and song. Uncle Paul came from a long line of rabbis and his family knew many traditional melodies. It was their custom to discuss the story of the Exodus and its various interpretations. It took a very long time to get to the matzoh ball soup.

This particular year the movie The Godfather had just come out, it had opened a few days earlier and was playing to sold out theaters in the city. My Dad was dying to see the movie. He was not a religious man, dubious about the existence of God and not one to enthusiastically partake of Jewish rituals. Attending the seder at his sister’s house evoked many conflicting emotions for him: his relationship with his sisters and parents was strained at best, he hated the traffic, he didn’t exactly get along with his brother-in-law and though the lesson of Passover, remembering our oppression and valuing freedom, was a core value, he probably could have done without the lengthy service.

Finally, the seder concluded at about 11:00 p.m. When we got to the car, Dad asked my mom, “Feige, what do you think? Can we get in to see ‘The Godfather’ now?”

The movie was playing around the clock in certain Manhattan theaters.

My mother, always ready for a movie, said, “Why not? Let’s try.”

“You kids okay with that,” Dad asked. Mark and I shrugged, okay. (Steven was away working at a hotel in the Poconos.)

We drove to the east side (getting crosstown through Central Park without traffic!) and were relieved to find that there were seats available. We got tickets for the midnight showing. I was 12 years old. My father, who had grown up in the Red Hook section of Brooklyn, was fascinated by the mob. I teased him about reading “The Don is Dead” multiple times. He read every book that came out about the Mafia. His parents, who owned a small grocery, had personal experience with mobsters who provided protection in the neighborhood.

I vividly recall certain scenes from the movie – one involving a horse’s head and another Sonny Corleone’s demise. I’m thinking it probably wasn’t a great choice for me at that age and at that hour of the night. But it was memorable.

The movie ended at about 3 in the morning. As he drove us back to Canarsie, Dad expounded on why he thought it was such a great movie. We hit no traffic. A perfect ending to our seder night.