Corydon said, Look neighbor, the cow
from my village gave the sweetest milk.
In April a thin green-white nectar
with the flavor of the smallest new pea.
Even deep in winter her milk’s
aroma constrained the tongue to release
its depth. It’s what I long for, and when
the Dellwood man drops bottles in my tin
box, I sigh for a thicker layer of cream.
Antigenes said, Neighbor, here are my grapes—
trim them and trick them up
around a few sticks, here, and they will be fat
as Elizabeth Taylor’s jewels. Have the Knife
Man give you his horse’s best gifts,
Be patient in picking, be cruel in crushing
and the wine will keep you all year to the next.
Phrasidamus said this cherry tree—this one—
in this strip of concrete patio will flower
and fruit like the Czar’s second-best.
The pink of the blossom will soothe a restless
dream and the fruit’s red will give your mouth
the strongest flesh it’s ever conquered
even as your tongue searches for the hard
pit. Let your daughters harvest what they will.
We did. We climbed the ladder and we picked.
There was no bowl sweet enough
for the cherries and, later, the grapes
So I carved one in the winter and while I did,
I sang, and filled jugs tall as I was
with must and sugar and slop,
filled jars as small as my mother’s hands
with pectin and wax and cotton.
Through the row house sheet rock
came screaming of names and private
grievances, through the night. Worse
than we could say, we heard—strange curses.
And every morning the sun shone
on the garden strips of the lost mother tongues.
What we could hear through the walls:
What couldn’t we hear through the walls?
What we could hear in the streets:
What couldn’t we hear in the streets?
What we heard in the house,
Friday nights candles low, end stumps of challah
the first to go, the sugar cube between the teeth
accepting and changing its glessele te, forefinger on bottom
thumb on rim, spoon stuck in to relieve and draw the heat.
That one kept gasoline and fireworks in the garage.
That one parked in front of the hydrant and never
got a ticket, and when they rebuilt the street
the hydrant was moved to The Stutterer’s house—
it was una cosa vostra.
That one bought his taxi medallion with his father-in-law’s money.
Those are the refugees whose
son went flying through the windshield, the one born
in America died, the one born in Palestine was driving.
Those were in DP camps and that one gets reparations for her broken back.
That one’s butcher scales are fixed.
The pharmacist’s wife should have told us about the monthlies,
That one was going through her changes and she hit her child.
That one’s insides dropped after her last child and she won’t
Let her husband touch her.
A piece of fruit after dinner, she called the youngest one melon-head because she had one.
Many called her katchkie-duck because once a neighbor saw her
But the oldest one, k’aine h’ora, could not be seen
As an infant and wouldn’t be named in the open air.
The evil eye was too subtle.