Sunday, April 3, 2011

Poems Inspired by a Book

The postings on this site are my own and don't necessarily represent IBM's positions, strategies or opinions.

Where My Sisters and I Are

Where are the sisters who read *Hiawatha* to me?
Who gave me magic-mask shampoos and rides on the
soles of their upturned feet?

Where are the sisters who played Chess with me and
Serata and taught me to bike-ride? Who made
whirlpools to gather leaves in our tree-canopied
pool and skinny-dipped with me on summer-nights?

Where are the sisters who taught me how to sing
"Ma Nishtana" at the Passover Seder? Who watched
forbidden TV with me when our parents were out?

Where are the sisters who mothered me and helped
me defy our mother in parallel? Who spent time
with me when our mother was too tired and who
baked Scotch Shortbread when our mother was out,
since she almost never brought sugary snacks
into our home?

Where are the sisters who taught me "The Facts of
Life" at the school bus-stop, when I was seven? Who
endured the aftermath of my eating an entire box of
Sunsweet(TM) prunes during an eight-hour ride, as our
father (not yet of blessed memory then) drove us up to
Rochester for my mother's mother's -- our nana's --
funeral when I was eight?

Where are the sisters who celebrated my first birthday
as a teen by taking me to a Pointer Sisters concert in
Central Park? Who hosted me in Tel Aviv and at
Columbia University during two special weekends, also
in my teen-years?

Where are the sisters who left their record collections
behind when they left the house, enabling me to play
Judy Collins, Joni Mitchell, Steeleye Span, Leonard
Cohen and Aqualung albums, which reminded me of them,
even as I preferred groups like the Pointer Sisters?

Where are the sisters who left me, feeling effectively
like an only-child day-to-day, since I was the only
daughter left in the house from ages 11-18? Who helped
me dress for my father's (z"l) funeral at 17, selecting
a red, paisley, wool scarf to wear over black, and then
cutting the scarf for me while I was wearing it, as a
sign of mourning?

Where are the sisters who bailed me out in Chicago, when
I needed an urgent, $200-loan? Who made me feel hopeful
during low periods? Who sacrificed a good chunk of their
childhoods to be second and third mothers to me?

They are parenting their own children now, making life-
histories with their husbands and helping me keep our
aging mother company.

Where am I? Still providing companionship for my mom, but
also parenting, and receiving parenting from, my partner
Pat, and co-parenting two adopted cats. I'm glad I've lived
long enough to form my own family, and wish I didn't still
feel pouty about my sisters' genuine children, interrupting
the attention I got from my sisters back in the day.

And I am grateful still to have one out of four of my
original parents left, and a new one in Pat, over the past
nearly 19 years.

Pausing on Page 124 for Reflection Disguised as Poetry

Jill Bialosky's youngest sister did not finish her life
I have a sister Jill's age, and one in between; I'm the
youngest, like Jill's baby sister Kim.

Never wanted to kill myself, except fleetingly, in Chicago,
in my early-twenties, after a love didn't work out and since
I felt like I was in a job beneath me with no idea of how to
climb out from under it. No romantic love, no real money and
neither in sight; those were my reasons for despair.

My friend, Marsha, coincidentally from the same Cleveland
suburb as Jill and her little sister, Shaker Heights, said,
"You don't want to die. You just want the pain to stop."

True! That's all I wanted. And I never again contemplated
suicide. Probably, what had kept the idea at bay till then, as
much as a lack of desperation up to that point, was an elementary
school lesson:

We were taught that it was forbidden for Jews to kill ourselves
and that those of us who did were buried on the fringe of the
cemetery, not alongside the rest of our family and community.

Little did I know that since my dad of blessed memory was
buried in the cemetery affiliated with the Modern Orthodox
synagogue, where we belonged when he died, I'm not qualified to
be buried alongside my family and community in any case, since I
want to be buried next to Pat[ricia], with a joint-headstone that
indicates our couplehood.

In my case, and ultimately in Jill's little sister's case, the
early-twenties were challenging to survive. My middle sister
encouraged me once during that period: "Sarah, turning 30 was like
being let out of jail." Everything became easier once my twenties
were over.

I wish Kim Bialosky had had a friend like Marsha, or had been
haunted by the Orthodox rabbis' warning or had not lost her father
so early, or....Like Jill, the author, I am wishing for a solution
to the mystery of her sister Kim's suicide and maybe all there will
ever be are clear clues -- looks that way so far....

Both of these poems were inspired by *History of a Suicide: My sister's Unfinished Life;* here's a link to an interview with the author.

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