I can speak it
but it is not
my mother tongue
I can speak it
I can speak it
but it is not
my mother tongue
On the brittle tree, a trinket
holds the morning light
turning it slowly
this way and that.
I refuse to join in
with the wringing of hands.
I will not lay my rod
alongside another’s to compare.
I decline to beat the mare
she’ll carry me where
at length I’m meant to be.
Out there in the blue, a jet
curves its contrail 90 degrees.
30 years ago, my mom put a sign in the yard of the house where I grew up, and a couple made an offer that day. So we started to build the warm, sturdy house where I would spend my teens and twenties and part of my thirties.
26 years ago, my ex and I had dated for one month, and I broke up with him flightily. We were 16 and 15, respectively. I stared into the collapsing coals in his parents’ fireplace, memorizing their arrangement, as he tried not to cry.
21 years ago, my sister was one week dead. I signed up for a poetry workshop for spring semester, figuring I’d have plenty to write about.
13 years ago, I’d just been dumped by someone I didn’t even like that much, two friends of mine had recently died in a drunk driving accident, and just before the holidays I got the flu. I spent New Year’s alone on my parents’ couch eating pizza, convinced my life had already hit its peak and everything from here was downhill.
10 years ago, I spent the night wearing sequins and listening to live jazz, drinking Dom Perignon, and eating poached salmon cleverly and aesthetically arranged to look like a fish, with cucumbers and halved cherry tomatoes for eyes, at the house of my ex’s mentor, who was essentially a modern-day Gatsby, with all the annoying and sad things that implies.
7 years ago, I was reading IT. Disgusted, afraid, impatient, I couldn’t stop. It took me one week to get through all 1200-plus pages. One day, there were several red helium balloons inexplicably caught in a tree outside our bedroom window. A few days later I’d catch my ex cheating, and he’d threaten to kill himself.
5 years ago, I wore a cut-off thrifted black velvet and lace minidress to the fanciest restaurant in town, and ate a seven-course “wild food” dinner that included wild greens vichyssoise and elk carpaccio. Then I came home and my ex put a gun to my head.
4 years ago, I made a frittata with purple potatoes and chorizo. I committed to writing a poem a day – a resolution I abandoned in May. Later that year, I would run 26.2 miles.
3 years ago, N and I spent our first New Year’s Eve together, getting dressed up, going out to eat Ethiopian food with our fingers from a shared platter, and comparing formerly closeted skeletons.
2 years ago, we had a party at his house. We cleared off the kitchen table and the desk in the office and put out curried cauliflower pickles, cheese straws, molasses spice cookies, magnums of champagne. We listened to Conway Twitty’s “You’ve Never Been This Far Before.”
1 year ago, I had the flu again. I dozed all evening, sustained by the Kraft mac-and-cheese and double-bergamot tea N had made me for lunch. Convinced the world might well end within the year, I don’t remember whether I even made it to midnight.
Last night, in the house N and I now own together, I joked with my parents on the phone, ate the best steak of my life, replicated a longtime favorite steakhouse recipe, laughed and kissed many times, petted cats, drank too much, danced in the living room, walked outside at 2 a.m. in bare feet in 15-degree weather to look up at the nearly full moon.
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.”