- What My Father Heard the Rabbi Say at My Mother's Funeral, and: The Wish, and: Celebrating His Ninety-Second Birthday the Year His Wife Died
What My Father Heard the Rabbi Say at My Mother's Funeral
And the Lord looked down upon this man and judged henceforth: The grocer will cut one steak.
For he shall be known all his numbered days as Bob and not Hubby, as she bestowed upon him for yea on sixty-four years and ten months and twenty-eight days, and not Bubby nor Sir Lancelot as she purred on blessed evenings, nor El Putzo when she cursed him in public.
So it was commanded: Cleave this them to a him.
And let not Benny Goodman or Sinatra classic, nor corned beef sandwich from Ben's, nor hot streak at the tables comfort this man as he had been comforted.
As leaves fall from winter trees, so shall her name, day by day, dwindle until forever vanished from the mail.
And lo—the sacred Social Security check shall be severely diminished.
And he shall suffer immeasurable woe.
When darkness descends, Bob shall wander the endless desert of his badly lit six hundred-square-foot apartment without staff, fiery cloud, shaggy slippers, or crumpled tissues to follow all his sleepless nights.
And when dawn finally rises from the vast void, let not the Denny's waitress ever again divide a solitary Grand Slam and maketh two.
All those hallowed summer weeks in the Catskills: bridge and rummy, cubed fruit, dancing shoeless in the bungalow, shall be cast upon his memory as an everlasting plague. [End Page 334]
And all the world shall pass him by in the way cars and trucks speed these days even in the slow lane, leaving only garbage in the wind on the Long Island Expressway.
So it was said, and so it shall be done.
Then, sighed my father in his fortieth retelling in the 2:00 am kitchen, the rabbi stoppedtalking, stepped down from the pulpit, and we put her in the ground. And I don't carewhat he or God or even you thinks—I'm never taking her name off that mailbox. [End Page 335]
What if we get him a turtle? my mother asksfrom behind her oxygen mask.
When she laughs, I do, too.
My father makes a fistthat looks like a claw, and shouts Fight harder!Mom nods, then coughs, sleeps more.
Five days later, I'm carryinga tiny army helmet, half-sunk,in a plastic oasis.
Dad jabs his rigid fingersinto the terrarium's sandy bottom,
picks the thing up.
Four flippers crawl against the air.Four wet eyes lock in a stare-off.
I'm somewhere betweentaking it back and a whiny But she said …
The little one slides its bald head left.The big one, right.
I hear my mother laugh.
I do what she would: cleanthe kitchen counter, make a placeby the window. [End Page 336]
One of them nods like this could work.One looks around at this strange world. [End Page 337]
Celebrating His Ninety-Second Birthday the Year His Wife Died
He goes to Ben's Delibecause the waitress doesn't ask how he is.He takes most of the corned beeffrom the sandwich, pilesit on the edge of the plate, makesa thinner one, with enough left for twonice ones at home.The waitress packs his leftovers, extraslices of rye and half-sour picklesin waxed paper and two mustards in squat cups.She never removes the other setting.She lets him sit as long as he wants. [End Page 338]
Michael Mark's poetry has appeared in Pleiades, The Sun, and Waxwing. He is the author of two books of stories, Toba and Toba at the Hands of a Thief.