Paralysis

The summer both Mama and our dog
Had a herniated disk in their lower backs
Both cried in pain and in sympathy.

We talked about death and quality of life
Which didn’t feel so different
There on our kitchen floor.

I sat with my coffee and a book
In the early morning
The dog already in pain
(Not early enough)
My hand resting on his panting head
Not comforting enough.

It is not easy to look into a dog’s eyes
As he is waiting to end.

He aged within three days
Becoming paralyzed.
The cat stopped by to smell his legs
And for a second I thought they might work again.
We read him stories to let him imagine that they would.

I brought a mattress into the living room
To sleep beside the dog
With our heads resting close
Each breathing in our own animal way.

/michal

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The Wall in My Grandmother’s Living Room

One of the walls in my grandmother’s living room had protruding plaster bulges. I watched them dance and wondered which concert or country or book they represented in my grandmother’s life. I pictured them grow and shrink with each remembering of a memory as it came up in her breathing and travelling thoughts. What if she picked up that small souvenir violin she bought in Prague and in response, her wall would hum along with the battery-powered toy? What if the wall remembered her life as she did?

I pictured two sweaty painters in tank tops come into her apartment with buckets, starting to throw balls of wet plaster onto the wall. I pictured my grandmother laughing with them and smiling to herself. I thought how lucky the painters were to get paid to throw things at walls and change them and bring them to life. How lucky they were to laugh with my grandmother and cool down in her apartment filled with classical music and air conditioning.

My grandmother’s life has lost its breath, along with its music and memories, so what does her wall remember now? Has it receded into itself to be flat like all the other walls?

/michal

Natan’s Funeral

Foreword: I found some writing I did about my beloved great uncle’s funeral. It never felt complete enough to share, but I realized now that it never will be complete.

__

Wednesday, May 3, 2017

The Central Bus Station of Tel Aviv is a tangle of escalators woven between venders selling cheap T-shirts and phone cases.

“How do I get to Yehud?” I ask the woman at the bus information booth. “By foot,” she says, and pauses longer than I would have if I were trying to be funny, like she was. I am not in the mood to acknowledge her humour and wait for the follow-up answer. “Line 37.”

An old lady with short maroon hair and short yellow teeth asks me if this is the bus line to Yehud. I say yes as I shift on the bench to make room for her. She says she had been sitting for three hours on the bus from Carmiel, so I shouldn’t bother. Is she also going to the funeral? What else could there possibly be in Yehud that is more important? Is she an old friend of Natan’s? Am I?

From the corner of my own avoiding eyes, I see the sweating bus driver look out his window as he hands me a ticket.

We pass by Canada Park, not quite close enough to enter its borders. I was just there yesterday, and now I am here. Where am I going?

Oh right, Yehud, which means “Jew” in Arabic. My stop is Ha’atzmaut, which means “independence” in Hebrew. Do these words tense up as I think of them?

I am family, kind of. We are related, somehow. I stand amongst others who are much closer to Natan, and to each other, than me. “It’s good to see you,” they say. Yes, in some way it is good. My unplanned visit is good on today’s small irrelevant scale of joy.

The sun is strong and unrelenting, shining wholeheartedly on the sombre gathering. We share sunscreen with familial kindness, as if we have grown up together and remember all those days at the beach from our childhood. We stay quiet.

The familiarity is cracked when one of Natan’s nephews asks me how I am doing in English. I respond in stubborn Hebrew, perhaps with an accent, perhaps incorrectly.

A large and indifferent religious man flatly recites some prayers. He must be used to death. He reminds me of the venders I saw earlier today at the Carmel Market, yelling about five shekel carrot juice and fresh fish. But this man at the funeral is selling something else.

Four men bring out a stretcher with a body covered in heavy fabric with shining inscriptions. Natan’s son begins to speak, describing how he was unsure what to write at four in the morning. He describes his father as the curious, brilliant, loving man that he was. He speaks to the body directly, glancing up every few words.

The grandchildren speak about him with delicate detailed memories, such that it is clear that he was their friend and not just their grandfather. His caregiver has a speech written in English, but she cannot stop crying, so she stands as another woman reads it to the crowd.

Two graves away from today’s fresh and painful addition lies his son, Micha, who died many years ago. They are now forever beside each other, together again.

/michal

Singing in the Bomb Shelter

Music class was held in the bomb shelter down the hall from my senior kindergarten homeroom. The shelter was plain with thick walls, so inside the acoustics were good. We inhabited a musical safe zone where we could play anything and not get hurt. My music teacher had a Russian accent that made her words taste funny in my ears. She sat on the floor between our tapping feet and sang as we tightly held the mallets with our childish hands. I focused on the rubber ball on the other end of my mallet, hitting and bouncing off the metal slate of the xylophone. The room was long, narrow, and cold like the xylophone slate. There was no space to sit in a circle, so we sat on the bench beside each other and faced the bricks in front of us. Hidden and safe.

/michal

Extraterrestrial

My brother and I shared a room until I was nine. I joined his room when I was born, taking up space with the crib our father built. My brother welcomed my invasion with late-night stories of green-eyed aliens in the closet. The nook-like closet could hardly fit an adult, but it was enormous. A space for a whole colony of aliens. My bed was closer to this danger zone, which meant that the aliens would eat me first when they emerge. For years, I slept with my knees tucked up so the aliens wouldn’t get my toes.

The floor was covered in a dark blue carpet that was speckled with yellow, red, and orange dots. I would wake up after surviving the scary nights, and step onto the carpet of dots. It looked like a night sky, and I was a morning astronaut standing upside down to count the planets. I would walk through the universe inside our own room.

Then came the glow-in-the-dark star stickers my brother shared with me, which I could merely look at, but never touch. They covered the ceiling, illuminating the dots in the carpet below. I stared at our private skylight of stars only we could see, forgetting about the aliens in the closet. We slept between two universes: one on the carpet below, and one on the ceiling above. The stars were real, and the aliens were not.

/michal

How the Story Goes, How You Go

I knew I loved you when we went swimming
And you read poems to me from the Icelandic book I got you
And we saw that raccoon
And I wore your sweater
And you hated the cold water
And you were sick
But I kissed you anyway
Knowing that I was in love.

I left you
A month later
Still in love
Knowing I would see you again.

And you wrote to me
Months later
Looking to see where I have gone.
I tried to show you but I felt too much
And you said too much
So I left you again
Still in love.

I knocked on your door
A month ago
Asking to try again
And we did, but I was unhappy.
I have left you, one final time
Still in love
With you you you(.)

/michal

Melting Point, Freezing Point

She is stuck between two worlds, in a perpetual transition phase that never seems to end. If only life had a clear-cut schedule of categorical time periods. “Now you are lost. Now you are found. Now you are alone. Now you are okay. Now you are confused. Now you are you.”

But no, the now is the always until it is no longer there. She sees no ends and no finish lines and no distinctions between who she is now and who she will be, until after when she isn’t herself but instead someone new.

She is stuck in a past love that seems to fade slowly, despite her pain and despite the letters. She is stuck in the fading process, a gradient of self-care and self-pity, pixelized so that you cannot see the truth, in case it might hurt.

The elegance of her broken state is blurry and looks more like a photo of moving lights in nighttime than a crystal chandelier; at least that’s all she sees when she looks in the mirror.

She thinks too much and feels too much and falls too much, but her legs were bruised from age 6 anyway. 6.5, to be precise. Something happened then that never got fixed. Something got stolen then and never returned.

/michal

I Wrote A Book!

I published a book of poems and short stories which can be purchased on Amazon.

I am including the preface below:

The words in your hands are excerpts from my journal.

These words are, more than anything, a documentation of who I have been while becoming who I am. I’m not done doing that, yet.

These words are my thoughts from ages 17 to 19.

These words are shared with you as an act of acceptance.

Each piece of writing included in this book has a timestamp. I have come to value time as an essential definition of my present state. I find comfort in making note of the precise minute in which words come to me, as if that knowledge will somehow allow me to relive the words more authentically.

I am reminded of the precision of timestamps on birth and death certificates, and I have come to think of these words as birth and death certificates of past and future selves, tumultuously ever-changing. Writing the timestamp is my way of feeling in control during the fluid and rapid process of change that has become my definition of aliveness.

/michal

Occupying Space

Some people you only meet in libraries. Where the bookshelves protect you and connect you and line the outside borders of your relationship. You represent to each other the transformation that overcomes you when you are there. They are your partners in this endeavour of thought. They are your only constant in the inevitable alterations that shape you forcefully, lovingly, and continuously.

He sits quietly, with both hands holding his phone, a slight hump for a back and agitated feet. By looking at him, you might think he is waiting for some important news through the phone. But he is just lonely, sitting with virtual images filling him with emptiness. Across the study table is a girl with an empty cup of Earl Grey tea who seems to be taking up more space than she feels is appropriate. She channels her discomfort with herself into the dispersed notes, textbook, lab manual, and laptop that occupy a carefully studious radius around her.

She bobs her head to music as she types up her anatomy notes. He notices her ring.

He comments, it looks like a neuron.

Oh, this? she says, it’s a starfish!

Interesting. He sees it now.

That’s not a neuron, he says.

She smiles without any further thoughts to express. He thinks he looks stupid and uneducated. Of course that’s a starfish, why wouldn’t it be?

The guy wears a Blue Jays baseball cap backwards over his long combed-back hair. He has an extra-large coffee cup and a laptop out on the table. Not so much space occupied, despite the huge cup. He looks like the type of guy she would expect to meet at some bar downtown, who flirts with you but doesn’t mean it. He looks like he’s wasting his time and money going to university. She’s trying to become less judgmental but she can’t help her disapproval.

What are you studying? he asks her quietly.

Anatomy. I have an exam in two days. She replies.

He doesn’t know anything about anatomy, which he involuntarily admitted in the first conversation. She won’t even talk to me, he thinks as she whispers back, you?

I’m working on a philosophy paper. He smiles sheepishly and looks down at his coffee.

Oh, what kind of philosophy? She’s intrigued.

This essay is on the ethics of euthanasia. I’m just trying to figure out how I feel about it.

Huh, I love that. Feelings have never been relevant to any of my courses. But they can provide so much insight into your thoughts… I’m Caroline, by the way.

I’m Jordan. Nice to meet you.

––

She waves to him as she walks by. He does not see her. She is too weak and shy to call out his name.

––

When Caroline looks up, she catches Jordan looking at her, but he suddenly looks away and then timidly looks back to see if she is still there. His eyes lightly twitch in embarrassment as she quickly continues to work. Jordan thinks she must hate him. Caroline thinks he must think she hates him.

––

The only food she can cook is pasta. And when she does, it is consistently fantastic. He takes the large wooden spoon in the pot and serves each of them a portion. He smiles a small, timid smile as she starts to eat. Finally a day when she has a good appetite. It has been a while since she ate like that.

––

They walked in the dusk when it was past fall but not yet winter, in the restlessly unpleasant pre-holiday atmosphere that choked the street. They felt nothing – no fear, no joy, no sadness. Or perhaps only sadness as a result. They stepped slowly. He was holding the leash, she was holding him in one hand and the umbrella in the other. The air got darker with each heavy breath but they kept going. They were running away in a loop. Running away from themselves, their pasts, their futures. From me. I saw them wither in the wind, losing their balance on the downhill path, being pulled forward forcefully. What was pulling them?

––

Her chin is pointed down. Un-kissable.

––

The room is dry in colour and in ventilation. There is only arid heating in the desert-like hospital offices, with patients and nurses walking by in the hallway, peering in from one desert into the other.

––

A man with a hat covering his entire head is reading a book slowly; not because he is a slow reader, but because he keeps looking up to see who is walking by. The man was a musician, they said. Is he bald? I can’t tell. He looks ill. Or unhappy. Or both.

 

/michal

Tell Me A Story

I will tell you an unfinished story. (Aren’t all stories unfinished, if they are still being told?). The story is one that is common to us all. It is about the search for your true, genuine self, if such a thing even exists.

The search begins with realizing that you even need to search for yourself. It begins with trying to define yourself to yourself and to other people, and noticing a difficulty in finding the right words.

The next stage is understanding the value in having the freedom to define yourself, accompanied by a fear of tackling such a feat.

Then you need to commit to try.

After this, you continue living your life in search of yourself, always changing, always moving, always learning. Life is a continuous process of reevaluation of yourself and your ideas. Never are you complete. Never are you finished. This story is never finished as long as people have the courage to face their lack of knowledge of themselves. Learning to search for your inner self – rather than actually finding it – is the meaning of life, if there is one at all.

/michal