- playing possum, and: me and the king, and: Sul ponticello
after Bayard Rustin
This is my mother newly dead, Mom says. She died without suffering.
I fondle the photo of my maternal grandmother playing possum. A dead possum in a ditch is called roadkill. A possum who's just playing is not a carcass. The women in my family will play anything to make you wonder. I am one of those women who finds herself playing. Just to see what you'd say about me then.
The woman in the photo is my namesake. The photo is black and white, taken and developed by my grandfather. He was a gangly husband, a polymath, her fellow physician. They married in med school. Stars of the show, those two. It was my tall reticent grandfather who administered the final morphine injection when the cancer took over her brain—when she was no longer the person she might recognize. He did this in secret without consulting the family. He did it in the living room of the remote Transylvanian chalet he designed and built by hand. Her green and white wooden dream house, a retreat for their retirement.
He did it because she wanted to remain herself. She made him promise. She made him promise again. She said if you love me . . . He signed her request with a blue fountain pen from Czechoslovakia. The request lay among papers and photos he preserved, images of her naked breasts, a voile nightgown, [End Page 114] smiling sepia, Alina, winsome, hungry, amorous, and finally, finally, faceless. Two slender hands crossed in languor over her lower chest. An Orthodox cross poised above the v-shaped limbs. A flock of birds on their way to warmer shores. Above their wings, a cardboard icon.
"I am an atheist now," he announced. But no one believed a man who hated God so much could ever come to disbelieve Himself. This was Ceausescu's communist Romania. I know hate is a kind of hope. These lines in my hand, a Balkan mutation.
me and the king
In a Transylvanian village they speak of a kingwho laughs with one eye and weeps with the other.He keeps me company in the valley between city buildings.
Have you ever wept when losing your journal in Manhattan?I cry with one eye and lie with another.
Hop the subway to Coney Island so a mermaid can recovermy story. At least one story in life needs a mermaid to endthings. And the sky is too much—the sky is a certaintinge of fire when the poet accuses,the podium weeps.
The verb for longing in Romanian is a mouthfulof moist mountain soil. [End Page 115]
Our betrothal avertedlike eyes across a wooden pewwe divide what we must equal from the trothwhere swine sink their snouts.
Has it been years oryards, fond ache-rage?
A fathom measures the distance between a pair of outstretched arms.Still you hold me like Jell-Osul ponticello. On the porch,in the kitchen, near a sink
sunset cannot overcome its habitual marvel:gilded tongue, scalded marrow I cannot linger Farbehind your palm's urge
knowingany body is a bowtuned to tremble
tangled limbs, mottledfruits, minor ninth. [End Page 116]