WOODEN SOLDIERS ALL ARE WE
LINED IN ROWS, GROUPED FAMILIES
WE GATHER AROUND THOSE RANKED ALIKE
FORM OUR BATTALIONS, BEGIN THE HIKE
SOME CUT DOWN WHEN WOOD’S STILL GREEN
WE TRAVEL ON MEET MORE BETWEEN
WE PUT FORTH EFFORT TO SUPPORT THE TROOPS
WE BEGET MORE SOLDIERS, WOOD BEARS FRUIT
TIME MOVES ALONG, THESE WOODEN BODIES WARP
ALONG THE ROUTE SOLDIERS, ONE BY ONE DROP
CHIPS OF PAINT FALL, CHUNKS OF WOOD FLY
WE’LL ALL BE ON THE ASH PILE BY AND BY.
WATCHING HELPLESS THOSE WHOSE FORMS SUCCUMB
WHO’S NEXT? HOW MANY? OUR MINDS GROW NUMB
WILL I SEE THEM ALL GO BEFORE MY SPLINTERS LIE
BENEATH SODDEN GROUND, WILL I LONG SURVIVE?
DO I HAVE TO GO LAST? MUST I WATCH AS YOU FALL?
SOMETIMES SO TIRED, TOO MUCH, I BAWL.
WHY DO WE MARCH ON, WHERE DO WE GO?
WHAT IS IT ALL FOR, WHY SO HARD, WHY AT ALL?
Mothers of my mother’s mother
Women who birthed me through the ages
I light our candles when Shabbos comes
My heart I open, to feel your love
We move on through the generations,
Say words so ancient and again so new
To fresh-faced babies, eyes aglow
Let in the love, then pass it through
Reflect the light of the flames so warm
The edges blur and I feel your life
I nourish her with the love you give
I’ll pass it on, so we may survive
Mothers of my mother’s mother
Guide me on and steer me true
My daughters and sons depend on this
To thrive in ancient love anew.
They cry in the dark, so you can’t see their tears
They hide in the light, so you can’t see their fears
Forgive and forget, all the while
Love and pain become one and the same
In the eyes of a wounded child
Hell is for children ……………..Pat Benetar
I barely look up trying to figure out where I am when a buzzer sounds and I hear my name. I walk to the desk where the young man who called my name sits in a rumpled suit. “Did you call me?”
“Yes I did, fill out this form and go through that door marked ‘H,’” he tells me.
“But where am I? What is this place?”
“This is the reception area for the processing center of the newly dead.,” is what I am startled to hear.
“But, I’m dead? When? How? The last thing I remember is……I don’t seem to remember anything except my name, but only my first name. Shouldn’t there be another one?”
He lets out a long hissing sigh…..”O!M!G! Another one! All day long, same old, same old! Just fill out the form and go.”
“But where? What does the “H” stand for? Is that Heaven? Oh no! Is it Hell?”
“NO, NO, it stands for Herman, it’s his office and he’ll be processing you. Now go!”
“Wow, so rude. Can’t you tell me what to expect at least?”
“Look lady, just move along.”
I stood there stubbornly glaring at him till he finally said:
“I see I’m not going to get you out of here so listen carefully, I’m only going to say this once! There is NO heaven or hell! Got it? There is only Herman and the others with more forms and questions. Once we have your surveys filled out about your last life, your questions that weren’t answered there, your likes and dislikes, you will be matched up and sent back!”
“Matched up? With what?”
“I don’t determine that, Herman, then Hilda, then Irving in the next rooms all have part in that. I just sort you as you come in and frankly lady they are piling up behind you.”
“But I want to know about the matching…for what, with what?”
“Ohboyohboy! Match with types of people, parts of the world, parents, education possibilities, situations, yada yada yada! Then you’ll be assigned to egg and sperm and sent back! Now you really have to move or I’ll send you to the other side where your light will be sent into the sun and your turn will be over. Do you want to go back again or become non-sentient light?”
“Okay, okay…..I get it…boy are you all so rude here? Gimme, those papers, I’m off to see Herman.
Maybe you should think about the sun?”
They ran breathlessly across the wide boulevard to the last courtyard on the end of the row of once grand pre-war apartment buildings. Handsome structures of yellow and rust colored brick stood proudly facing the sun, housing scores of hard working middle class families. Judy and Harold had spent all morning playing ball and running through the woods with friends in Bronx Park. They were sweaty, thirsty and hungry, on their way to have lunch.
Harold lived on the sixth floor with his mother and father. His mother had been widowed at thirty-two with three young children, and was nearly forty when he was born. Harold was a basically selfish person who would prefer the world revolved around him but he loved Judy and mostly treated her well. He often enjoyed having her around and would agree to bring her along to the movies and other activities with his friends. He selfishly guarded his toys though and would not allow her to play with them or touch them and would only allow her to read his comic books if she bought them from him for a nickel apiece. He rationalized that he was doing her a favor because they cost him a dime.
Judy was the only child of Harold’s oldest half-sister which made her his niece. Judy had just turned ten years old, and he was barely three years older. She loved spending weekends at her grandmother’s house and followed Harold around like a hungry puppy pretending he was the big brother she always wanted. She was a socially awkward child, whose family consisted of bitterly divorced parents. Around Harold and his friends she always felt comfortable and her impish personality was allowed to run free. She was smart enough to keep up with these older children and relished her time with them.
In the lobby of the building Judy pressed the call button for the elevator as Harold headed for the stairs. He made no pretense about being afraid of the elevator and ran up and down the six flights several times a day. Judy was lazy and since her father and uncles were all elevator mechanics she had no patience with Harold’s phobia. Not wanting to ride alone though she pleaded for Harold to ride with her. In a charitable mood today, he agreed. They laughed and teased each other as the gentle whir of the car signaled it’s arrival. The ancient two-piece car door slid open unlocking the swinging door from the lobby and they pulled it open. The children entered the small car and each took up a corner watching the outside door swing slowly in and the slide door close off the opening to the shaftway. With a tiny lurch the car began it’s ascent. Judy noticed Harold’s jaw tighten and could determine his anxiety rising. She couldn’t help the devilish grin that slashed above her chin as she bent her knees and began bouncing up and down causing the car to rattle in the shaft. She knew this would create a stomach leaping, deep jerk of the cab when it finally came to a stop. Harold immediately began screaming at her threatening, pleading with her to stop as the car continued rocking, but Judy had done this many times and laughed at him, chiding him for being so silly as to be afraid of an elevator. Their voices echoed up and down the narrow shaftway as the car suddenly came to a jerking stop on the third floor. They both became silent as they could see Mrs. Wiener, Harold’s next door neighbor, through the window as the door began it’s agonizing slide open. She pulled open the outside door and stood there with Mrs. Bullock glaring at the two unruly children. Their returning gazes mimicked deer frozen in headlights. “Vut are you children’ doing in there? Behave yourselves!” She scolded. “Here Harold, help me carry this box” she demanded as she thrust the package into his arms. He looked longingly at the stairs behind her but there was no escaping now. “At least Judy will have to behave herself” he thought as he resigned himself to the continued elevator trek to the sixth floor. “Goodbye Sophie,” Mrs. Wiener said to Mrs. Bullock as the latter turned away to enter her apartment, “Thank you for taking in my package.”
Again the doors did their tired maneuvers and the elevator began it’s climb. Judy stared through the wired window glass as the walls of the shaftway went by, not daring to look at Mrs. Wiener or Harold. “I hope she doesn’t tell Grandma how noisy we were” she thought to herself. Judy hated being caught misbehaving. As she saw the fourth floor hall door go by the elevator suddenly groaned far above them, came to an abrupt stop and the lights went out. Harold let out an involuntary cry as he dropped the box and grasped the walls of the car. Judy was startled, then startled again as Mrs. Wiener began to pound her fists on the door. “Gut in Heven, NO NO” she screamed! “Let me out frum here, help me,” she continued. Suddenly silent, she buried her face in her arm pressed against the window and began to mutter in her native language. Judy could clearly see the blurry blue numbers on Mrs. Wiener’s forearm and yet again wondered why they were there, why Mrs. Bullock had them too and more than a few others she knew. Judy looked at Harold and calmly said “Don’t worry, it’s going to be okay, someone will come very soon.” She turned and put her arms across Mrs. Wiener. “Mrs. Wiener” she cooed, “Did you know my dad fixes elevators? He taught me that sometimes they may stop between floors, but they are always safe, we’re going to be okay, don’t worry.” Mrs. Wiener stood up and looked into the earnest face of the little girl then over to the terror stricken young Harold. She straighten up, pulled both children into her embrace and said in a cheerful tone, “That’s right Judy, ve are perfectly safe here till somevun comes. Let’s just be patient, at least ve are not alone. I vus just surprised, dun’t vorry. So Harold, I hear you haff a birthday coming?” Harold smiled for the first time as he looked into Mrs. Wiener’s twinkling eyes that darted toward the box he now realized was a present for him. “I will be thirteen years old next week, he said, a teenager!” “Dat’s right!” said the old woman, “and I’m looking fovard to the celebration.”
All of a sudden the temperamental elevator began whirring again and moving upward, lights flickering on. They heard the super yelling up the shaftway from the first floor. “If anyone is in there, it’s all fixed now, you’re on your way.” “Thank you!” they all yelled simultaneously, then all three giggled as the tense moments slipped away.
I have been silent for quite some time but this has been aggravating me for a while now and so….
“The problem is not the problem.
The problem is your attitude about the problem.
Do you understand?”
Capt. Jack Sparrow
Politics. I am discouraged, outraged, cynical, jaded, depressed and a long list of similarly negative adjectives when it comes to politics in this country. Specifically about the public attitude surrounding the presidential election that thankfully will be over in two very long weeks.
There are two main candidates running for office and most people have made up their minds a long time ago about which they will choose on that fateful Tuesday. But what I see, in the newspaper, on Facebook, at social functions where some dare to discuss, is that most people have actually chosen who they prefer to hate rather than whom they admire for sharing their views and values. After each debate instead of critical thinking and polite discussion there has only been ridicule and hateful rhetoric from each side about the other. I read comments from extremists right and left, berating the other candidate and party for a lie, a misspeak, a basic view or belief. They describe the opponent as hateful, shallow, unfeeling and refer to them in vulgar terms. “He hates women.” “He is stupid about foreign policy.” “He was born too late, born too early, his wife dresses in poor taste.” In days following people post articles from obscure news web sites, or extreme one sided publications to justify their views. There is no middle ground any more and no politeness. No one is willing to look at another’s view and say, “I see you are passionate about this and I respect that, however, I disagree because the way I see it is this……….. What do you think about that?” No one wants to listen to the reasoning behind each other’s views or entertain the possibility that they might learn something new. It is never permissible to question your own choices, you must never be challenged for certainly you can’t be wrong. Just look at how many narrow minded people agree with you!
Yes, I see narrow mindedness supporting both sides of the aisle and I see no hope for any solution in the near future. We are being torn further and further apart and even those who have been privileged to serve in office lead us in this example and refuse to meet in the middle. We cannot have serious issues resolved when pride, self righteousness and stubborn ignorance prevail.
How sweet, how quaint how kitsch, how old,
Thank you proprietor, consider it sold.
This little jar had a twin once placed,
In Grandma’s parlor beside the vase.
For I loved these things, worth not assessed.
Though they have no value I am possessed,
By their emotional tug of reminders past.
I bring them home and all too fast,
My house is crowded, dusty and cluttered.
Resembling the shop where of late I puttered.
Though I can muse from one thing to the other,
This from Auntie, this from Mother.
Things handed down, things collected about,
The walls close in and I want to shout.
Things kept from Mama, Great Grandma and Granny.
From Uncle Leo, from Gregg from Fanny.
Tchatzkahs not let go with the demise of Rosie,
From Pop and Dad, quite true I’m dizzy.
Still shelves fill and new ones purchased,
The boxes next and every surface.
The closets full each cranny and crevie,
Then to the garage and displace the Chevy.
The attic full, the drawers are stuffed.
I hate that chair whose back is tuft.
The iron lamp with base that’s dented,
The covered pillows that once were scented.
I shout: “Out, OUT dammed pot!
You have no use, your origin forgot.
And you red ash tray so oft I’ve emptied,
No one smokes here, not since the 70’s.
Brass candlesticks lit in a smoky daze,
I’ve not filled you since college days!”
Why do you crowd me out and linger?
Why do I keep you and not lift a finger
To rid my domicile of your stifling presence?
Please, no more! Not one more present,
Of things not needed so dear in the shoppe.
This business of collecting must certainly stop!
Can I turn on my kindle and just ignore you?
Browse the net for film and sorts on You Tube?
Trudge to the kitchen all shiny new with granite,
Make myself a snack and just say “damn it!”
I’ll just ignore you like I’ve done for decades,
I practically don’t see you, at least on most days.
One day I’ll pass too and you’ll be here still.
To the next generation you’ll be left in my will.
The jokes on them for they’ve no clue yet
Of the fate I’ll leave them on this I’ll bet.
They’ll treasure every item as each they pick up,
But if they’re smart they’ll dispose of the stuff!
I love my family. I’m lucky to have a wonderful husband and children that I like for the people they are. Even if I didn’t have to love them I would choose them as friends. Of course it’s often the case when living closely with people that they can be trying, sometimes even difficult to be around as I am certain I am to them. Even so, I could never leave them. Except…….
In my deepest, darkest secret desire I would begin a completely new life. Oh, I have this well thought out. I’d steal away in the night. I would have a goodly sum of money stashed away in an off-shore account of course, and I’d take only a few precious things that could be secured in a backpack or a very small suitcase. Perhaps just one family photo, Mom’s ring, certainly all my favorite earrings, a few changes of clothing, but that is all.
Off I’d go, perhaps beginning my disappearance with a drive to Canada, my newly purchased documents of identification tucked neatly in my wallet. A passport, drivers license, whatever needed to begin my new life on a distant shore, a complete reinvention of myself. I’ve had an alias picked out nearly forty years that I will not reveal here, one never knows.
The details of my brand new life are not yet formed, probably never will be. I think the fantasy is more important to remain fluid, the thrill in the many incarnations I can continue to invent. Perhaps I’ll reside on a Caribbean Island? I could open a little specialty souvenir shop right on the beach. I’d spend my days barefoot, clad in only bathing suits and long flowing skirts that flutter in the off shore breezes, tropical flowers in my hair.
Maybe I’ll live in Israel on a kibbutz. I could teach English to high school students, I’ve always loved and worked well with teenagers. In my spare time I could study and learn, join women’s groups and spend hours discussing theology. I’d have all the time in the world to visit and explore the varied historical Biblical sites, walk the paths of our ancestors.
Then there’s the possibility that I would choose to travel further, to try my luck and settle Down Under. I could buy a small wooden house on the edge of the Outback, perhaps close to the city of Canberra. The property would be of generous size with a goat and a few chickens for company. Outside would be a small kitchen garden ringed with flower beds, natural landscape and flora beyond that. Across the dooryard the old barn would be outfitted anew with skylights and picture windows. There I’d spend my days experimenting with canvas and paints of oil and acrylic.
This new life teases me in my mind’s eye, full of promises like the clean pages of a new book just waiting to be written. Ahhhh, the possibilities! Would I miss the life I have now? It’s a good life really. Without a doubt I would, perhaps excruciatingly! Is this fair to the husband I love? To the children I cherish? Of course not, it’s cruel, thoughtless, certainly the most selfish thing of which I’ve ever conceived. But then, that’s the thing about secret desires and the reason some should remain ever unrealized. They don’t always play by the rules.
My grandmother was 41 years old when I was born and had a 2-1/2 year old son, my uncle. Being an only child I followed Jack around like a little sister, mimicking and learning from him. He called my grandmother “Mama” so I did also. I was always able to remember Mama’s age by remembering that she turned 20 in March and my mother was born the next April. When my mother turned 21 in April, I was born that May. Simple math and I could figure it out.
What I hadn’t figured out till my teenage years is that Mama, whose second husband was five years younger than she, didn’t like people figuring out her age. She evaded the question or out and out lied about it. My calling her Mama instead of Grandma was an accidental bonus for her.
When I learned about Mama’s secret it astonished me, why would anyone lie about their age? Growing up one can hardly wait to gain that extra year or half year designation. We wait for milestones, double digits at ten, teen at thirteen, drivers permit at sixteen, we couldn’t wait to tell our age! It amused me also, but I loved Mama and would never betray her, I did not divulge what I knew. After all, Mama with her fortunate youthful genes and sleek black hair hardly looked her age at all!
At eighteen, I was away for three months and when I came home and visited Mama, I was shocked speechless. Her head was covered with a thick shock of gorgeous white hair. She looked like a grandmother, how could this happen so fast? My mother explained that Mama developed an allergy to hair dye and had to let her fast growing hair go natural. MAMA DYED HER HAIR? This white mop covering her head was natural? How naïve I was! What other secrets was she keeping? This was turning into one complicated deception of age and hair color.
Fast forward about thirty years and suddenly I realized I’ve begun evading the question of my own age. I’m glad and grateful for the wonderful genes I’ve inherited and I’ve often been mistaken for being younger, sometimes by many years. However, I’ve begun to feel the weight of decades and at first honestly forgetting the exact number I now avoid it.
Why? I couldn’t tell you precisely. Is it the youth oriented culture we live in that often fails to acknowledge women over 30, or even 25? Have I begun to feel invisible and don’t wish to be seen as a number any more than being categorized into little sub-groups for marketing purposes and government tallies? Not sure, I just know that I hated when I couldn’t check the 18-24 age group box, then the 25-44 box….wow that hurt, and now 45-59 is creeping up on me!
It just so happens that in a few weeks I will be reaching one of those milestone birthdays. You know the ones where people buy you cards that say “Over the hill” or some such non-funny phrase. Most people know how old I’ll be this May or if they don’t, they have politely allowed me to think them ignorant.
I’ve not changed, I know that. I’m still that barefoot pre-teen with the world’s first Jew-fro, still that carefree NYC bride of twenty-three setting up house in the East Village, that new suburban homeowner with preschool children who just reached thirty. No, that isn’t exactly true. With years have come experience that have colored many views I hold and I’m now a bit different than those other women I was. With age has come physical restriction a bit sooner than others usually experience. But even with advancing age sensitivity has remained. I don’t want to be categorized by some random number or geographic location, or circumstance of race at birth. More than any time in my life I want to be met and known for who I am, how I treat others, my sense of humor and how I may enhance the relationship we shall enter.
Therefore, I choose to keep Mama’s secret, dye my black roots regularly, perhaps lie to myself a little and evade the question of age. You won’t tell, will you?
I am no artist with pen and ink
With charcoals I just plain stink.
No subject matter do I enhance.
When applying paints to a canvas.
If you witnessed my attempt at ballet
You’d be very tempted to say,
“That child murdered the poor nutcracker,
Someone should come right out and whack her!”
No pleasant sounds escaped the flute,
With which great effort I did toot.
The sound of my piano would make you sickle,
Cause the ivories I pounded instead of tickled.
While I can belt them to the back row!
I often misalign my sacro.
And then hit notes that can clear a bog.
Or only be heard by the neighbor’s dog.
But when to paper my pen is poised,
My thoughts come out in flowing words.
Ideas expressed to those who read,
Make sense and fill me with a sense of peace.
Works which may not travel far and wide,
They fill my loved ones with a sense of pride.
It helps release my muddled brain,
When to my ideas I allow free reign.
So humor me when here you read.
Encourage me, to you I plead.
To entertain you I aspire
And release my brain of muck and mire.