Tonight the moon looks like I need glasses. I cup my hands around my personal pain, a warm mug full of slow poison. I grimace but savor it anyway. It’s ice they say making it hazy. Too far away to hear my howl. Many nights we all spent drinking late by the fire, a white pebble high above, my father king of the Irish goodbye. It is not lost on me, the cruel irony of his slipping quietly out of this life at 68. Up there a cold world, pale and furred with a ring of frost. Rainbow tinged even, if I look for more than a moment. Yet this thing in my hand absorbs me too fully, kindles for a moment the fire of resentment and ire in my belly. The unjust, the wicked who flourish like the bay tree – but even their faces are blurred. The burn persists. My myopia. Tonight the moon is the shape of my navel.
In 2012, during the first year of working with my analyst, one night I dreamed I made matzo ball soup.
When I recounted the dream at that week’s appointment, I was stunned when she said, “I think you should go home and make matzo ball soup. Notice what that experience is like, and how it feels to you while you’re making the soup.”
I had only eaten matzo ball soup a couple of times in my entire life, much less prepared it, so I had to figure out how on my own, doing research and using a kind of rough average of a half-dozen recipes I found online. I felt that if I was going to do this, I should do it right, so I started from scratch. I roasted a chicken, and then I made homemade stock from it. I refrigerated the stock so that it would set up. Once it was cold, I carefully scraped off the schmaltz and reserved it, and then I used it for the fat in the matzo balls, instead of oil or butter. I stirred the batter, but not too much, and let it rest for 30 minutes in the refrigerator. I rolled the batter into little balls and slipped them into a deep pot of the hot stock and simmered them, covered, for a half hour. And then I arranged three of them in a bowl and ladled golden stock over it, and a shower of fresh chives.
I think of my sister, who wrote in her journal of an experience she had several nights before she left for Nashville to have her bone marrow transplant. How she lay in bed awake, with a persistent sense that a divine voice kept saying to her “Stand up, stand up!” How she tried to ignore it, think of other things, but those two words kept returning again and again, insistent, until she threw off the covers and stood up on her mattress in the dark. Then she felt like a fool. The room was quiet. Nothing happened.
I was likewise mystified by my analyst’s “assignment,” and I remember a strange, almost supernatural wonder about whether I would get some magical epiphany from making the soup. Which I didn’t. It was merely – merely? – a delicious soup. A bowl of gold with rich, buttery dumplings and flecks of jewel-like green in it.
Yet I think of that soup as a key piece in the complete transformation that I underwent over the course of the next several years.
Something about making that with my hands, something about the concreteness of it, something about that act as a kind of proof to my psyche, a way of showing my deep willingness to listen to her, to hear her out, even at the cost of making a fool of myself, of feeling slightly ridiculous – an absurd leap of faith. I can trace so much back to that matzo ball soup.
My analyst is truly a genius. But I was brave, too, to make that leap.
Carried milk from the local dairy to my daycare room
then were sent back empty for refilling, round as moons,
with small pink caps that got replaced when too worn.
Add a -g to the end of jugs and they become, I guess, fun?
As when Christ turned the vats’ contents from water to wine,
and a better vintage even than had been served to begin,
prompting the wedding guests to rave, “This wise man,
our host, has saved the best for last – not given us the scum
once our palate’s already been ruined!” Mary’s bosoms
too were vessels for a life-giving potion that sustained
the best man ever known. Did you know that? Or that mine
have never sustained anyone, yet they’re still quite fine,
both firm and soft despite my age, and they’re mine alone?
And you’ve never seen them, even if you have, my son.
I have learned
pushing the button just once
is not enough:
I must press and press the whole trip up
or it will ignore and pass my floor.
II. Vending machine
Never not a fretful second:
I slide in my few coins and wonder:
will my food get caught
on a higher peg
before it falls the long drop to me?
I hold my breath each time.
They turn on the groaning
taps in December
leave them on till April
and only turn them off after
four eighty-degree days in a row
I suppose the state knows best
how I feel
and what should be done about it.
“I invented liking,” he told everyone who would listen. “Loving,
not so much, loving is very old, but liking and that loosely curled
fist with thumb upturned, that was mine, that was a thing I did
and got a raise and a bump in rung. Before me, folks didn’t know
how to enjoy just up to the point of love but not beyond, one tick below
and now look how many things we like, we like, we like, our hearts
and thumbs scooting their butts across the sill of an open window
where a man speaks promises and fears into a crowd of faces
so thick it becomes impossible to distinguish which is which
or each from each. The particular flattened, the likeness enhanced
until distinctions all but disappear. Like begets like, as you
well know. And I invented like,” he said again. “Love, not so much.”
deep river of things
conveyor of human freight
a crimped rill begins your chute
expands to a mouth
two hundred miles wide
effluvium of your travels
whorls of silt muddy the clear
the clear never quite clear
of hidden life that poisons
of rainbowed oil slick
a drone of wings carrying
god only knows what
At the gate we plighted our troth again
but found our flight had been delayed.
So we took ourselves to the bar instead.
And who does whiskey not make mean?
I believe you meant each word you said
when you claimed you loved, then loathed;
when one night you adored my form unclothed,
next morning, deplored and wished it dead.
It would be a lie to claim I was confused.
I grokked what all this meant: you felt both.
I swirled my straw in amber, pledged my faith
and saw how cunning tenderness is used.
Your eyes in the sun’s last rays shone clear.
It took me six months more to cloud them, dear.
A cat is mistress
of the fine art of remain-
ing at arm’s distance.