Happy December

Important saints bless Chile with three-day weekends and I grace my students with the revelation of Hanukkah, a forty-eight year old Spaniard hadn’t heard of it, so I guess Franco realized what the inquisition started. Here I am Jewish, super Jewish, extranjera extraña, rara, there are nine other Jews in Santiago and I saw the first one (kippa, payot, and all) as he glided through a body scanner into the bank. Here I am more Jewish than in Virginia, my parents came to my elementary school to pantomime shamash etiquette and play dreidel with chocolate coins, and my classmates directed me to my future address in hell, with greater specificity each year. I tell my students that my family is hybrid, non-religious Jewish and Protestant, Hanukkah and Christmas, an increasingly normal oddity in my country, I teach starters “both,” ambos. We practice the “th” sound by putting our tongues between our teeth. I don’t teach them “neither,” neither bat mitzvah nor baptism, neither Christian nor Jewish enough, Jewish through my father so not really a Jew at all.

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Horticulture Lessons

Mom dug and I nearly helped. Plastic trowel
in my seven year hands not turning much soil. Planting
was my magic step. The possibilities in wax paper packets
I ripped open and removed two seeds at a time.
Don’t crowd them but don’t let them get lonely.
Neat rows of squatting to poke holes drop seeds
and pat firm again again again to fill the raised box
claiming half the backyard. City concrete edged
the rental of those early years together.

There, before the new father
before we retreated my middle grade to the suburbs,
corner bars and neighbors’ eyes stayed open ‘til two am
but the daffodils out front never slept. Forsythia early,
iris late, tulips the whole time.

That first year Mom forgot
to mark the rows. Our thrill at the survival of each kind
a surprise until they reached teen age. I cheered their growth.
My affection without question or condition for the tangy earth
of early leaves as tomato stems grew hair and tight buds spread.
Pepper florets blushed as sunflowers out-stretched me
and the leaky hose hissed like a garter snake the cat didn’t care for.

One day Mom turned a leaf to expose
lemon-lime specks coursing the veins, dancing irregular
jigs around chewed holes and brown spots. Aphids.
I lifted my hand to squash them. Raise their blood a penance
for destroying even one leaf on my darling. But she held
my wrist. No. And we spent the afternoon catching ladybugs.

Stop for Silver

Jenn, my boss, has the same hands
as my grandmother. The pair
from fifteen years ago that hovered
above her keyboard, tapped letters
as a skilled bird pecks for seed.
Patient but willful. Her wrinkle
at each knuckle, skin dipping
between thin bones only visible
for a moment when holding a pen
or fork, when her palm up gesture
made her diamond shift askew
on her left ring finger.

Memories of Granddaddy Frank

I pluck good leaves from cellophane,
the ceraceous leather of baby spinach
failing to slime, wetting the bag.

I try to remember farming.
Wet earth under my nails, worms not far below.
Critters guard livestock, all accustomed
to the tractor hum. Sheep wait to be shorn.

The tulip poplar out front blooms each spring,
more brown each year, the pine taller, the creek
more shallow, the drive redone six times since he’s gone.

Can I scratch a half-memory, still call it home?

Love a man only in pictures.
Take this quiet waxy amber, hardening
in my lymph nodes, polish polish
polish until it glints clean topaz.