Summer 2009 - THE POTOMAC

Two Poems
   Robert Cooperman

Yiddish Curses

“Gay in drayd,”
Grandma would curse
the cashier-cheat
at the local market:
“Go underground,”
“Drop dead.”

Then there was the one
she would wield
like a hatchet that meant,
“Shit in your hat,”
to make me think of a jerk
putting on his bowler,
with disgusting results.

Or her other favorite,
“You should grow like an onion,
with your head in the ground,”
and I’d picture someone
smothering, choking, staring
at the other subterranean onions,
soil clinging to their heads,
all gagging, eating soil:

Dante, Hell’s master poet,
bending his knee to her
in fealty and awe.

Yizkor, the Service for the Dead: Yom Kippur

In the middle of the all-day fast
and penitential synagogue prayers,
when we begged pardon of God
for everything bad we’d done
the year before, came Yizkor:
the service for the dead,

when we children were allowed
to play outside, quietly, while most
of our fathers and mothers,
and men and women somehow
even older, stood in shul and bobbed
and murmured the prayers
in memory of their beloved dead.

But one Yom Kippur, Donald Levine
couldn’t escape, a boy my age,
his father dead a few months earlier.
So with a face sad as a draught horse
that sees nothing but a long, steep hill
and a load heavy as the world,
Donald stayed behind: small, hunched
over, as if fearful of being accused
of something dreadful by the police.

I ran for the autumn sunshine,
afraid if I lingered an instant in the pew,
my father, too, would be taken,
though part of me wanted to stay,
to make sure he was going nowhere.

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