from Dear Suzanne.
May 9, 1956
I flit among shades of pink and blue and violet. I bury my nose in
each one and inhale. Here, away from stale, I breathe. My father
suffering from allergies sneezes into his store of handkerchiefs. We
walk through clouds of azaleas, colors changing with each step. Today
in the arboretum, the most beautiful place in my world, the lilacs are
blooming. My parents spread out the blanket and sit. I keep wandering
among the trees as though I walk in Impressionist paintings.
Leaf-shadows dapple my shirt. I find my spot in the sun, heat enters
my skin flows through my body. Roots emerge from my feet plant me in
this spot. I want to hold green in me forever.
My father calls and I slowly walk back to the car while mother tells
me to move my legs. At home I am trapped between big bodies in tiny
rooms, roaches that scurry in the night, floors covered in grime. Out
my bedroom windows I see only the brick back wall of the market a few
feet away, a gravel driveway in between. I open the window lean out
try to see the sky. I lie on my bed, close my eyes, remember the
motion of wind across long grass.
October 17, 1956
In this temple, I am content to listen to the choir sing, floating on
the mournful sounds, forgetting the turbulence outside these strong
walls. I listen to my father and grandfather sing the prayers. The
cantor cries his heart out asking for forgiveness in a language that
is only sound as is the blowing of the shofar - words into music
I go with my father to shul wearing my pretty dress
with a stiff petticoat that scratches my legs. We sit with Grandpa
where we always sit in the first row of the balcony. The setting sun
rouges the ceiling. The long strokes quickly fade. It is Kol Nidre,
the beginning of Yom Kippur, when we are supposed to atone for our
sins. I am eight years old and I am not sorry for my sin of
hatefulness. I have broken one of god’s commandments, but who is this
god that orders me to honor an angry mother?
Who is this god that ordered the destruction of cities and nearly
every living being on the face of the earth? I read about Noah in my
bible comic book and cried for all the creatures drowned; were they
not god’s children as well?
Do I forgive god for the millions who died in Germany? I who cannot
find the heart to forgive my mother, what can I say of forgiveness?
Sitting here playing with the fringe of my father’s tallis, fingering
the corner tassels with the special knots, each corner a compass point
for the people swept around the world, swept away like dirt, like
specks of dust in a universe of dust. I am a part of and apart from
these people around me, their voices encompassing me — the un-believer.
Shma, Shma – I have no one to call to.
September 13, 1971
Today stretched across a low platform for an unknown artist my arm
hand fingers taut reaching to nothing one knee slightly bent
the scritch of charcoal on paper followed by soft rubs stopped
I hold the pose still in overheated room sweat runs
down my sides waiting for the sound of drawing to continue
a rush of movement then hand hard on my shoulder knee between my
legs shoved apart and weight weight slammed
onto my back arm held down
body held down gasp and grunt hard hard into me
my face against
rough cloth pushed down down floor splinters
through cloth as he hard
and quick thack thump
a rubber tree stands in the corner my grandmother had one too in
a ceramic pot
on a pedestal after years the pedestal dug a hole in the rug
|eve rifkah is editor of the literary journal Diner and co-founder of Poetry Oasis, Inc., a non-profit poetry association dedicated to education, promoting local poets and publishing Diner. Poems have or will appear in Bellevue Literary Review, The MacGuffin, 5 AM, Parthenon West, newversenews.com, poetrymagazine.com, Chaffin Journal, Porcupine Press, The Worcester Review, California Quarterly, ReDactions, Jabberwock Review, Southern New Hampshire Literary Journal and translated into Braille. Her chapbook “At the Leprosarium” won the 2003 Revelever chapbook contest. At this time she is a professor of English at Worcester and Fitchburg State Colleges and a workshop instructor. She has been nominated for the 2007 Associated Writing Program Community Service Award for her work with Abby’s House Shelter for Women, running a celebrated reading series in Worcester, and support of Gertrude Halstead in editing and submitting manuscripts including “memories like burrs” plus many poems of which numerous have been selected by respected journals. She received her MFA in Writing from Vermont College and lives with her husband, poet Michael Milligan.|