Rochelle Jewel Shapiro’s novel, Miriam the Medium (Simon & Schuster, 2004) was nominated for the Ribelow Prize. The sequel, Kaylee’s Ghost (2012) was an Indie Finalist. Her poems and short stories have appeared in The Iowa Review, Peregrine, Atlanta Review, Amoskaag, The Delmara Review, Reunion: The Dallas Review, and more. She’s published essays in The New York Times (Lives) and Newsweek, plus many anthologies. Her poetry has been nominated twice for the Pushcart Prize, and she’s won the Branden Memorial Literary Award from Negative Capability. Spry Magazine nominated her poem for the Best of the Net. Currently she teaches writing at UCLA Extension.
With the sun’s drumbeat
on the roof of her black Mercury,
Mother drives the nine-hour pre-
Thruway winding route from Rockaway Beach
to her parents in Syracuse. We three
sisters sit in the backseat until
one of us gets caught pinching or kicking.
The guilty one gets to sit
in front where the dashboard fan
whirrs the thick, humid air.
As if on cue, middle sister pukes
into a paper bag from my father’s grocery
where he’ll continue to overwork,
his belly full of bowls of shav,
borscht, gribenes slathered on black bread,
and other shtetl foods.
A man who only wanted a son
will not miss his three daughters
nor his Amerikanisher wife, who buys
dresses from department stores
instead of street carts. Money is bubkes
to someone who never had to escape a country.
But Mother has to escape
his fist smashing the table,
making the dishes jump, or crashing
a chair against the kitchen wall,
escape the bristles of his night-beard
against her face, his heft
on top of her small frame without even one
ich habe dir lib,
I love you, which he used to whisper
into her neck. No matter
if you are born here,
you can, at any moment,
become a refugee.
NOT LIKE AN EGRET
I don’t begin, bent-kneed,
my long neck stretched.
I don’t push off the marsh
with yellow feet, nor flap
white wings, nor hear
My flight is a whoosh
that lifts me off my bed,
like when you take in a wave
and your ears are filled
with the ocean’s roar.
Morning, I land
in the arms of my dead mother
who holds me, raft-like.
Through my closed lids, I see
the globe of her white bathing cap
like a moon in the sky of day.