The Shadows of the Body

My father came home
With a stack of X-ray films.
He went into his office and put them
Up, one-by-one,
In front of the light.
I sat behind,
Unnecessary,
And watched as the light formed
Bones and stomachs and necks.
Puzzle pieces glowing.
He called me over,
Look at this
Kid
He swallowed a coin.
See?
And there I saw a shekel –
Small circular shadow in the light.
But you wouldn’t know the currency
From the image.
I gaped as I imagined,
Which of my classmates was this?
My world was confined to my kindergarten.
If anything happened,
It must have been there.
A war, a holiday, a storm,
Confined to my nap-room.

Last week my father sat in his office,
In front of the computer screen
Glowing with bones and stomachs and necks.
He called me down to see,
Look at this
Woman
She swallowed a butter knife.
See?
And there I saw, with clear-cut precision,
The long shadow in the light.
But you wouldn’t know her reasons
From the image.
I gaped as I imagined
What that must have felt like.
What thoughts led her to this,
What fears.
A war, a holiday, a storm,
Confined to her mind.

/michal

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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

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

Remedies

On our last night you asked me
What I didn’t like about my body.
I got frustrated
(Too many things to list)
Why would anyone ask that?

You wanted to kiss all the parts
I didn’t like
Until I would like them.

So I named a few parts
And you put your head under the sheets
And kissed them until I fell asleep.

Today I want to tell you
Which parts I don’t like
(The parts my father pointed out to me)
But you aren’t here to kiss me any longer.
(Let me heal myself)

/michal

Anchoring Heuristic

Spellbinding
conversations always carry
an undertone of finality, now
that it is clear to me
what the most magnificent
of exchanges can hide:

hopelessness
strong enough to turn
the whole thing inside out
at the drop of a hat, words
that felt once big enough
to hold the universe

twisted
into small, unyielding
shards meant to puncture
the foundations that let
those dreams grow at all,
never forgiving them for that.

Syllables
like marbles I mistake
for planets, anchoring
and adjustment heuristic
gone haywire, I rush
to believe in

something
heaven knows must collapse.
Is this what trust is? Drifting
from our moorings, from
perspective and forgetting
how wonder can turn in on itself?

/cristina