Bio Note: Although I've spent most of my career in public relations and journalism, my first love has always been poetry. I've been writing poetry ever since I was a child. My husband and I live in Columbia, Maryland and our two adult sons live in New York and Texas. Now retired, we fill our empty nest with three rescue cats and a dog. Besides refereeing animals, I spend most of my time scrapbooking, making cards and, of course, refereeing animals. I've been published most recently in Halfway Down the Stairs, Where Words Matter and The Ekphrastic Review.
Mourning My Aunt in the Time of COVID-19
In memory of Frances Hyatt (1920-2020)
She lived a century and in the end, what robbed her of her last breath was not age at all, but COVID-19. No funeral or shiva to shed our tears, hug one another, warm the chill of grief. But technology? There was that. A computer, its monitor like a patchwork quilt, lovingly stitched with stories of her life threaded with sorrow and smiles by family and friends in this virtual shul. No plane ticket needed to travel the distance, no time missed from work. Such things have a way of thwarting even the most important of events. Now, a simple click of a keyboard and there we were, a congregation of faces warming a cold screen, united in prayer and song, piecing together the colors of her life. As a baby, hidden in a drawer, nestled against hooch in a tram as her family escaped Russian pogroms. As a mother, raising her intellectually challenged daughter at home. Hosting family barbecues with Martha Stewart flair. Rescuing a three-legged dog. Her sass and laughs that would switch the light on sadness in any room. And so it was here, every face lit with memories of her. We’d all grayed since we’d last seen each other. Her daughters, neighbors, friends. Grandchildren with children of their own. Portraits in motion. Her legacy of love in a world gone amok. And in the end, I smiled not because she was gone, but because I knew somehow, she was there.
Her Last Breath
In memory of my mother Charlotte Hyatt, née Wallenstein, 1930-2020
I’d been waiting for this phone call. From my sister, my brother, from her nursing home. “Mom’s passed,” I expected. She’d been slowly swallowed by Alzheimer’s for months. Like a frog caught in the grips of a snake’s fangs, eyes wide open, suspended in time and space. Frightened, wanting to escape, not knowing how. I’d visit weekly, leave every time, her words echoing in my head, sometimes a sweet “I love you,” sometimes “GO HOME.” Other times, wanting to leave with me, not knowing this is where she now lived … the safety of nurses and aides who would feed her and sing to her and make certain she didn’t fall. As time passed, talk about family slid into garble and I knew that phone call would be coming soon enough. I’d come home each time and wait for the phone’s ring to fracture the silence of my fears. I’d trudge through my daily paces, trying to block out her bedraggled look, her once-stylish hair, now waist-length, rancid, uncombed. Stained sweats replacing skirts and neatly pressed blouses she’d always worn. That call came. My sister-in-law’s voice first: Mom can hear you. And then on the phone, my mother. Not her voice. Just the unsteady hissing of oxygen. The voice for which I was waiting was oxygen. Unsteady, but somehow rhythmic, soothing, Could she hear me? If she could, did it matter? I don’t know. “I love you, Mom.” The snake hissed, drowned my memories of her singing, her last “I love yous.” Her humor, love of cats, stories of childhood. Just hissing. She was still in the snake’s fangs, but not for long. I had spoken to her last breath.
Breadcrumbs in the Butter
Memories relived in the aftermath of the murder of George Floyd
A starless night lit by cars in flames and torched buildings, where streets paved with shards from broken panes, the plaintive screams of Blacks with broken dreams, their dreamer, Dr. Martin Luther King, murdered. My house was in the path of despair; I was at a friend’s, a place out of time, where dinner plates were edged in gold and flatware shimmered. Steam spiraled from a fat, juicy roast, fresh warm bread in a woven basket, butter by its side. Words blurred together in a cloud of conversation, Carmen played softly in the background that couldn’t blot out the cries of loss that echoed in my head. Had these people not heard the news? Did they not hear the world crumbling outside their castle as they ate in peace? Spits of fire and pop pop pop of guns, mournful cries echoed in my head, drowning out Carmen and idle talk. I lived in a world of ungilded plates in the heart of hurt, where white skin was my armor in an unforgiving world. Here, I was in the safety of ignorance. “WHO PUT BREADCRUMBS IN THE BUTTER?” Her dad’s voice chilled my blood, His gray brows furrowed, his blue eyes glazed with fury, aimed at me. I wondered what Dr. King’s last words were.
©2020 Shelly Blankman
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