"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

for sure.




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

darkly handsome





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?



XI  "Surgeons must be very careful"


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



XV  Nightmare


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


I wake







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,

at peace





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



of sex





"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 ‑

And jokes


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.



Still ‑ 

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

I wonder

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

the pain

seems unbearable






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

Take me





A turn 

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

for death


At night the nurse calls.

He is awake, moving his arms,

feet ‑ we are weak with relief

The old man struggles against

all odds