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HIDING, MY MOTHER INVITES A DOCTOR FOR LUNCH,THREE YEARS SINCE YOUR DEATH / COPPER NICKLE (2020)

 

Translated from the Hebrew by Jane Medved

 

 

Hiding

 

I want to write about that door,

the front door I opened with the hands

of an eight year old, a fifteen year old,

a twenty year old, a forty year old.

I want to tell how I hid from my mother

one Friday afternoon, when I came home

from school, still wearing my backpack.

I stood outside the door for hours

and spied on her, watching how she waited

for me to arrive: her beautiful cheeks sinking

into themselves like parachutes emptied

of air, her eyes shooting their green arrows

in every direction without hitting a thing.

 

She wandered between the kitchen and living room

like a pendulum, lifting then replacing

the telephone, moving her lips like a silent film star.

I didn’t hear a thing through the door.

How long did I stand and watch her like that?

Until she turned grey before my eyes?

Until the evening grew dark?

Perhaps I got cold.  Perhaps I had pity on her,

a door of mercy opening inside me.

 

My mother almost fainted in my arms,

her eyes looking towards me

as if through a hollow tunnel that had at its end

the unimaginable, the unthinkable,

that which must now be erased from her memory.

 

I saved her

from the gaping abyss, from the capriciousness

 

of life, from my disappearance

and from her own disappearance.

For the first time in my life

I felt the responsibility of being loved,

and it broke my heart.

 

 

My Mother Invites A Doctor For Lunch

 

 

He arrives at five after twelve,

during the afternoon break from the clinic,

lowering his head

 

in order not to hit the door frame.

The hair on the top of his head is thinning

like oxygen at the peak of a mountain.

 

My mother seats him in my chair,

dressed in her pastel sweater,

thrilled that he agreed to come.

She believes in co-existence

 

with physicians.

The yellow winter light enters

through the geranium pot on the window,

and pours onto our backpacks

strewn around the kitchen floor,

the doctor glances down

 

to the painted tiles

that my parents bought in Jaffa.

My mother says “Make yourself at home,”

and immediately there is the span

 

of a desert between us.

She serves chicken soup, asks if he

would also like carrots,

when is he planning to get married,

how did he decide to become a doctor,

how long does it take to get here

from the village every morning.

He sips the soup

without a sound. It would be possible

to imagine he’s not even there,

if he wasn’t as tall as the minaret of a mosque

in the middle of our dining room.

 

What did we know about Arabs?

That they murder women and children,

they shout, they water down gasoline,

sell horse meat, have arranged marriages,

that they have no idea what love is.

 

The Doctor says thank you and agrees

to another serving.  My sister and I

watch his hand and how the spoon arrives

at his mouth precisely, lifting from the bowl

like an airplane taking off above

an ocean of boiling soup, being swallowed

 

in a different universe.

Under his heavy eyelashes stretches

the line of a far horizon, his gaze

looking through us. We are scared

to ask ourselves, what does he know about Jews?

 

Afterwards, he bends over again,

drooping like a flower stem, on his way out.

My mother invites him to come back soon.

“Of course,” he says.

But he never does.  He turns instead

 

to his own future –

the village, the wedding, the continuation

of his balding, the traffic jams, and his promotion

to director of the clinic,

and my mother turns to her future –

 

to live, become sick and die young

and in between –

pots empty and fill

like hearts,

and bowls follow the necessary path

of cupboard-table-sink-cupboard,

orbiting the kitchen

that has become our world.

 

I only saw him once more,

years later, when I stood at the entrance

to his office, trying to get a prescription

for my mother, that he wouldn’t agree to give me.

He explained about the new regulations

as if he didn’t know

what love was. I screamed at him.

What I wouldn’t give for a happy ending.

 

I remember that moment clearly:

me and my crying and everything I knew about doctors

and mothers, slipping out of me,

bubbling, boiled sadness.

 

 

Three Years Since Your Death

 

 

 

The leaves of the maple tree in my garden

are red and damp from the rain.

I have stopped expecting to see the sun-

bathed nuts you loved, between its branches.

I drive a car much larger than I need. The street

signs are written in the mother tongue of others.

Yellow traffic lights sway beneath their wires,

but there is no wind and no promise of wind.

I turn a key inside the lock of a house

built by strangers, for people who are not you,

and not me, in a time that proceeded both of us.

I know how to point out four kinds of wheat

in English, and to choose bread from a bakery

where there is not one thing from the ground

where you are buried, from where you bore me.

I have learned the movements of a frozen winter,

vaster and stiller than the winter that held you

in its arms as you passed from your body.

Where did you go? Where did I go?

 

If we ran into each other in the street today,

you would ask  Is that you? And perhaps

I wouldn’t know how to answer.