Winter 2017 — THE POTOMAC

Three Poems

Brenda Serpick


7 or 8 Things I Know About Her

          after Michael Ondaatje

In the last moments of her life her arms were flailing. They would float up angelic and we thought she needed something, but the nurse said it was just reflexive — an automatic impulse — not for us at all, but for wherever consciousness exists in the last moments of her arms.

She asked for our help periodically in the kitchen with the dishes. We rarely questioned in houses, but would do anything to be the center of her attention. With soap and water we doused her table — drenching the floor, she laughed — it had such shine.

Rudy told us the dolls missed us, as they both sat in their rusted chairs watching grandchildren play fancy in the backyard. Then, the phone rang and she shrieked hello to an old friend from Chicago — who called her Fanny — so happy for the opportunity.

She told me, "Now you call me if you ever see anything like that happening again!" And the next time I heard cursing or bleating or parents throwing closets, I dialed her — how did I know her number? — "Put your father on the phone," so I did. I never called again, because he beat me from embarrassment.

Her grandmother read Hebrew for the illiterate women and baked challah for the poorer in their village near Mogilev. She would listen to the biblical, singing, but passed the bread reluctantly, "What about us?" she wondered.

When OJ Simpson killed his wife, spousal abuse erupted and the commonality of slapping wives or pounding children with PVC pipes all of a sudden was abnormal. She told me, "Well, we don't have to worry — Jews don't do that."

When it was time to leave Teasdale Avenue, she was distraught. "They forgot about us," she kept repeating. Or would describe herself in colors. Blue. Then, the phone rang on November 27th hysterically thinking it was Thanksgiving — which was November 28th. Convinced the children did not invite her, she threatened to hang up until we shrieked, "Don't go, don't go."


The Jean Exhibit

Jean pronounced as a child her name in orthodox and narrowly survived scarlet fever from the boat who shifted her from Mogilev through to America in the Pacific not Atlantic, the latter being months faster, but somehow lost Jean's birthday. She shared thereupon with my grandmother, Feygl, who remembers Jean as a grand and lovely dancer, though the Jean I knew had already developed peg and useless legs. In undivided years Jean and Feygl resembled twins among complicated features, smug skirts and smiles, with one regular hand on the left hip, the other a scaffold to sunlight. The only generation of girls born inside a boundless migrant family within which Feygl remembers her father as a baritone, her mother with fair skin. All but one daughter inherited their father's Sephardic showing, in Spain their name was Moreno which translates dark, but this daughter whom Feygl cannot recall died at one year. The girls saved one brother from the Jewish Mafia and bought the twin brothers coats, unfortunately stolen from school during The Depression. Feygl remembers them as a whole month's salary and shakes her head even on this day, in which Jean both immobile and inaudible deceased.



Tell of an old phylactery
A leather withered
In width and wise
Of dawn and heat

A devastation knows
His limbs
Imprints a skin
Makes partitions
With its lilied pull

I see a lily on your arm
That precept caused by rainwater
On your forehead
A tulip grows
Where women are
Not allowed

For years
In my mornings
We grow arms together

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