When Kingfishers Caught Fire

I.

Was she respected in her youth?
Who knew how long ago “youth” even was for her,
unbroken in mind and body.
Now she stays the whole day in bed,
except, as family matriarch, when she sits regally on the toilet.
This old, Russian biddy, it seems, doesn’t have many friends, maybe no family.
No one to visit and share folktales, music, and dance.
She forgot that she was young once,
never thought of herself getting old, but here we are.
Took care of her children, gave them her own sweater.
Whose idea was it to immigrate?
How did the new country differ from the old?
She was first in her family to learn English from television commercials.
“The Shower Massage by Water Pik.”  “ABC’s Wide World of Sports.”  “It’s Parkay.”
Otherwise, she spoke her native language with family,
with neighbors,
and now in the Home, where only three of us could speak Russian:
The medical director, the old biddy, and I.
But because she mostly babbled, I couldn’t understand everything she said,
and I finally
told her that, in Russian.
She peered at me. Who the Hell was I, and why could she understand me?

II.

Lying in the uncomfortable Home bed
It suddenly hit me: maybe she’s speaking the Russian of her
childhood, and using a child’s words, in vain.
That’s why I couldn’t understand her!
She was not speaking adult Russian,
but baby Russian, her own dialect,
Sitting alone with herself and her memories.

III.

But where the Hell is she now?
In bed, asleep, or sitting up and wondering why
Mama had not come to see her,
wondering why Mama had not come to see her.

 

Still Can’t Afford an Epitaph

I finally admit it.
I find myself
between a rock and a hard
place.
As I look more clearly at myself,
I see you more clearly.
Yesterday, I did not celebrate you.
Yesterday, I celebrated my daughter, mother of one
and soon to be, of two,
marveled at the excellent mother she is,
despite my selfish mistakes,
weakness, and inabilities.
Watching her,
I learn how to be a better mother to her,
and to the me I used to be, who desired
the mother who never was, never could be.
The conflict that has been here, between what my sister feels and what my daughter feels…
I am coming to terms with it. In two days, you would have been ninety-seven, probably
out of your mind, but still stroking the keys. Not knowing who we were, but not caring.
I think the thing to do is have the damned epitaph engraved,
but I still can’t afford it.

 

No One Told Me

Something happened, and no one told me.
I felt left out, excluded, ignored.
It wasn’t really any of my business.
Fool’s-mated again, on the chessboard.

Left out, excluded, ignored,
the child in me wanted connection.
Fool’s mated again, on the chessboard,
but the temple was small, no room for attention.

The child in me wanted connection
but all eyes were elsewhere, then.
The temple room was too cramped
for the inclusion of any more women or men.

All eyes were on the Bar Mitzvah Boy
or on the bride and groom.
No more people could fit in there.
The photos left me in a state of gloom.

Everyone looked at the bride and groom.
–it wasn’t really any of my business–
All the photographs left me in gloom:
Something happened.

 

Carol H. Jewell is a musician, teacher, librarian, and poet, living in Upstate New York, with her wife and seven cats. She has published a chapbook of her poems and has work included in two anthologies, as well as many print and online journals. She is currently editing an anthology of pantoums, occasionally gives a workshop on poetry writing for healing, and teaches a college lecture on pantoums. Her pronouns are she/her/hers.