"Who touches this
Touches a man"
In Rochester my father is dying and I
am buying groceries in New York
pushing a cart down the aisle
stocking up for the kids.
Orit picks out vegetables;
we discuss meal plans that I
will not be there to follow
In a rush to catch the flight
we light the first candle for Hanukkah
as if ritual will save us
Oren chants the blessings
Ezi takes my suitcase
into the night
At the airport I am dressed in black
already in mourning.
Staring forward, hands folded ‑
what right do I have to distract myself
when he may even now be gone
The airport lounge ‑ like a hospital waiting room
- but the 10:10 flight to Rochester
will take off on time
give or take an hour
A blurred photograph ‑
dapper father and preening child ‑
My happiest moments were ‑
wearing my brown flowered crocheted vest
and walking hand in hand
with a man
in a soft cream suit
You without me ‑ I without you
like a knocker without a door
My mother had sung tunelessly in Yiddish
as we waited through an earlier operation.
Terrified ‑ tears starred her eyes
as she thought of her husband, her prize.
Two days later and he was shaving
his hair combed by the pretty nurse,
Making his lover bird‑nervous,
By not finishing everything on his plate.
You without me ‑ I without you
like a knocker without a door
As he fights his way out of a coma
she caresses the unpierced spaces on his naked chest.
Between the heart monitors, the Swan‑Ganz catheter
the tubes, drains and IVs, is bare flesh, hairs
around taut nipples. "Fishele", she coos,
absurdly erotic and crooning, "Poor baby."
More absurd, I organize words in my brain,
write them down now ‑ someone says: if he dies
no one will know the valor of his fighting flesh
Better to note the hunger for life,
then bury the glory in an elegy
I call home five six times a day
crazily sensual conversations
At night ‑ sleeping on a couch in my parent's study
my arms ache for my lover’s arms.
From down the hall I see his room, the bed, his legs.
His legs ‑ move ‑ raise and lower in sequence
minutes out of a coma, hours from an craniotomy,
the man, with all that is left of his brain, tells
His body: start physiotherapy, recovery, the road back.
The years of struggle!
aging parents from a distant land
with foreign fiats for a fifties teenager.
It was my mother who made the rules.
He ‑ passive, gentle, accepting ‑ believed
in compromise for the sake of peace. I
rebelled against the both of them, but forgave
at least ‑ his philosophy
Broad shouldered, clean cut
at seventy eight he cuts a trim figure ‑
even here ‑ in Intensive Care ‑ the room
closest to the nurses' station ‑ he is
On the shelf in the study, among more pretentious tomes,
a thin red book I learned to read from
by sounding out words to my father
on Sunday mornings:
"The Human Machine" ‑ a superficial little thing
of no use ‑ now
The heating in my parents' flat
emits intermittent sounds ‑ like the respirator
by his bed ‑ I wake when it stops
Is he still alive?
My mother weeps
when the doctor lists the possible dangers
all night she sobs ‑ he is slipping from her
I go into the study and shut the door
no longer can I comfort her
for what I fear myself
When I am not with her,
angels hover about my mother;
Neighbors and friends comfort, alleviate,
drive, cook, fetch and retrieve
My presence chases all away
I am the one
The trees ‑ baring ‑
reveal abandoned nests
The ground not quite frozen
shows who has been
and walked away
In the evening I deplore
The idea of self-indulgence, shut my door
on pacing, wandering, weeping
and swear myself strong
His skin is so fine ‑ the skin
of a much younger man. At night
remembering his naked flesh in a hospital bed
I think of you ‑ And suddenly you are lying there
unconscious, unshaven, tubes in all orifices
Morning, I awake late
with a start ‑ we should be
in hospital by now
Mother sits, weeping, at the kitchen table
"He went into coma" "When?"
"Last night when we left." "How
do you know?" "I feel it
in my heart."
Unwashed, unfed, I race with her to his room ‑
Nurse Ilsa, fussing with the confused tubes,
tells us he was just awake
stuck out his tongue, wiggled his toes
Now he sleeps ‑ shaven, clean,
I become an expert at intensive care
know each tube, bottle, lock, flush -
Where it comes and goes and why
the spaghetti lifeline
His eyes, closed since morning, are the keys.
can he be roused. I shout
for all intensive care to hear. "Wake up Dad!"
twenty times before they flicker like a trick shade
The Rabbi claps his hands, my mother rejoices,
I turn my back and weep.
Take all the tubes out let's go home!
Enough of this game, this little episode.
Open your eyes and jump up,
"Hello Mother, I knew it was you!"
And now, ere I descend
into yet another dark valley of grief
I demand another chance for diversion
"My only comfort
would be a furtive fuck
in the broom closet now."
I'd like to tell someone.
Were he here, Ezi
would look at me without wonder
squeeze my hand, and buy
a bar of chocolate.
This urge, obsession to record
like the hourly checks
the nurses make
on his nerves
He turns his head, pressing his lips together with closed eyes
I am reminded of my infant son, stretching in sleep, warm
after a feeding ‑ dry, comfortable, at the beginning of his life ‑
"It's probably a reflex," Ilsa says. But she too
looks down at the old man sleeping with a beaming face.
The feast of lights ‑ an eight night miracle of oil
Today is Friday ‑ half way through the menorah
"The first 48 hours is crucial"
The surgeon said at first
"Then we will begin worrying
about injury to the brain stem,
heart, pneumonia, infection
The fourth day –
Tomorrow I must return
to a less needy nest.
On my deathbed,
give me jokes ‑
drugs if there is pain ‑
Jokes about dying
How many times have I seen my own death.
Dropping off under anesthesia,
driving storm blind on a snowy road,
death easy as falling asleep,
relief from a weary life.
going away, I am smitten
with guilt. Who
will guard mother, soothe
her when the news
is not so good
Rochi calls to say
we must take care of our elders
If only ‑ to show our children
how to behave with us
Ha! I turn and wave good‑by
I don't want my kids
stopping their lives for me.
The pumping respirator, my loving friend
a soft puffed piston, whispering a muffled rhythm
Like the clock we would wrap in flannel for the orphan kitten
Keep your beat for him while I am gone
Saturday, the fifth candle,
the surgeon greets us with happy hands.
He is awake, alert, improving each day
The watery eyes, still immobile from the pressure
receding on the optic nerve, stare at her
as she takes his hand
"I love you," she gurgles.
A tear drops down the swollen cheek.
As she snores on the waiting room sofa
how will we celebrate this holiday at home
what fireworks could we set off
That would not draw the evil eye
Going in to say good‑by:
The curtain is partly closed
The nurse and an orderly
try to move the tracheal tube
to the other side of his mouth
He fights, flailing both arms, his legs,
knotting all the tubes, even in his heart.
In the florescent light
A furtive call to the surgeon on duty
on my way to the airport,
and the situation is seen in a different light ‑ "Not
out of danger" How
much easier to digest
our jocular regular's strange:
"We're still in the ball park"
So hard to leave
a weeping old woman
a man tied
to endless tubes
simply to live
Remembering the wounds
the zipper in his head,
the blackened veins
tears slip from me
here in the airport
waiting to leave
At the ticket counter, I make reservations to return
far from the hospital, I feel the tubes
pulling at my wounds
In black, I seat myself opposite
a mauve robed tonsured monk.
He wears rubber sandals ‑ bare long nailed toes
I anticipate a diversion from pain
regain my composure. He
gathers his parcels and departs.
Home again. Take me
out to eat, to see
pictures, movies, street scenes
for the worse ‑ Mother
says on the phone ‑ a cliche
I think ‑ don't give me
Another operation ‑ he is back
where he was a week before
but weaker. The resident
prepares the shuddering old woman
At night the nurse calls.
He is awake, moving his arms,
feet ‑ we are weak with relief
The old man struggles against