I have been an educator for over 35 years in various roles as teacher, principal, professor and currently superintendent of schools in Mountainside, New Jersey. I have published articles in several academic journals, frequently on the subject of teaching poetry, but my great love is writing poetry. I recently received Honorable Mention in the 2014 Allen Ginsberg Poetry Awards. My poems have appeared in a number of journals including Paterson Literary Review, Poetica, Poetry Nook, Stillwater Review, and Tiferet. My chapbook, Tattoos, is available through Finishing Line Press, http://www.finishinglinepress.com
Her toe dips in
as the water recedes.
One foot disappears,
then the other.
My mother edges
toward us, her knees
We called it The Gladys.
Late in the day, when the sun
started to fade, she finally
removed her wide-brimmed
hat to join us.
The Gladys —
never beyond her waist.
Her fingertips skimmed the surface,
then slipped under to cup the water,
to soak her arms, chest, face.
Sometimes we splashed around her,
until she shrieked for us to stop.
We never glimpsed the powerful
swimmer my father said she once was.
We only remember a wisp of a woman
who never left the shallow,
or spread her arms to keep afloat.
At birth, I hold you in the
bend of my arm, blow a
breath across your face;
eyebrows raise, startle;
your tiny hand unclenches.
At 4, I sing an off-key rhyme
while I rub your back; you
echo the chorus from your
pillow; the last note fades
mid-sentence in the dim light.
At 8, we count cars and cows
until you miss the mottled
one; I spy you in the rear
view mirror; your juice
box tumbles to the seat.
At 16, I open your door in the
early morning; your leg hangs
from the loft bed. I climb the
ladder, glimpse your stubbled
face, and leave before you wake.
At 20, you sit on the couch, wait
to watch your midnight show,
turn the TV volume up until
your father and I stir; you
gently nudge us upstairs.
Author's Note: Sparks of holiness is a concept from Jewish mysticism. The Yiddish word, treyf, refers to non-kosher food.
Sparks of Holiness
A curl of bacon sizzled in a
newly purchased skillet. In
1958, at age two, my weight
dipped below the standard.
The pediatrician assured my
parents that bacon would
fatten me up, but as we left,
Dr. Goldstein gripped my
mother’s arm and whispered:
the treyf -- keep it separate.
They had this Jew’s consent;
But would an iron pan protect
them -- keep my family bonded
to the generations since Moses
who banned together for strength
and support, yet remained separate —
as they were exiled to deserts,
expelled from villages, wrenched
from shetls, to eat only foods that
released sparks of holiness, that
provided sustenance to follow God’s
laws? So, as I gained weight, my
parents’ kosher home slowly
unraveled; their strength was in a
healthy child; they gave up the rest.
I knew from the moment I tore the
cellophane, it wasn’t the real Barbie.
Her eyes were painted -- no lashes;
her nose pointy; her smile -- a little
turned down; a simple cotton sun
suit, but no accessories. The package
said Tina; that was the obvious clue.
My sister had the real Barbie. She
saved her allowance -- enough for
the doll and three outfits. I watched
her go off to play with the girls across
the street. Sometimes I followed. When
I approached, the Barbie nation emerged.
The black vinyl suitcase opened to a
three story dream house; Malibu Barbie
in the elevator; a blue convertible
and Ken’s jeep in the driveway,
the Glamour Camper off to the side;
matching outfits scattered everywhere.
But they always told me: No way --
not without your own Barbie. I
saw what my dad was up to that day.
He encouraged me to take the doll
over there, but I hesitated. He
motioned me back as he grabbed his
pliers, a few grommets, leftover
pink oil cloth from reupholstered
stools. In a moment he held up Tina,
dressed in a stunning strapless gown
that she would never take off.
I Googled Nathan Kessman -- couldn’t
find him. Searched Facebook -- he
wasn’t there. The system to recapture
lost loves had failed me. The alphabet
is what brought us together -- his K,
my L -- Mrs. Butterworth’s technique
to quickly target miscreants and
expedite the exchange of papers. It kept
Nathan’s grimy neck in view all of first
grade -- so close his scent of canned
peas made me gag. Turn around, I
seethed, as he tried to talk to me.
She always caught us both, made us
stand in opposite corners for great
chunks of the morning. At recess
one day everything changed. I love you,
he said in the middle of jump rope, and
that he’d wait for me. And there he was
-- on the steps after school as other
children tumbled past him. He offered
up a sweaty palm (I held it but wiped
my hand as he looked away).
I saw my future along 16th Avenue.
He kissed me. It was more like Mom’s
satin than Dad’s bristle. Our romance
lasted almost two blocks. Right before
we reached the Boulevard, I knew --
My mom wants me home by 4, he
said -- and then disappeared. The
rest is murky -- I only remember
he left me with the crossing guard.
She held up her hand to stop traffic. I
ran home in time to see The Flintstones.
©2014 Nancy Lubarsky