Author’s Note: My Berkshire buddy, V-V regular Kate Sontag, got me involved again this year in a series of April poetry prompts. One had to be about a month, so I got to write a June poem, but the rest were tough. I almost despaired over the vegetable prompt, until I remembered about my mother and the carrots. And then there’s the vexed question of where your father was born. Who knows, right? Germany? The Bronx? You weren’t there and witnesses become harder to find with each passing year. Birth certificates? Who believes those? Besides, maps and place names change all the time.
A Night in June
Last night the moon almost gave up.
The night sky was so bright, so suffused
with light, there was no place to hide,
as if stars had spilled their liquid
substance on an ocean of dark waves.
We gathered in the street, our neighbors
with their eyes on fire and their tongues
preserved in ice. And soon we began
to sing. We sat sat on blankets among
shining birches, which glowed silver
in the strange blaze. We passed a bottle,
then in the distance watched the rain
falling in its black pattern, far away,
where hills rose like teeth from the red earth.
My Mother Loved Carrots
Especially the young, tender ones she splurged on
in their little cellophane bags at the grocery store.
Not one for supermarkets or farmer’s markets,
she rolled her shopping wagon to the little local place
with the narrow aisles, and carts lined up outside
by the fruit stand. The Puerto Rican checkout girls
knew her and always had a smile, a good word,
even when she complained that out of seven items
she wanted, they didn’t have three.
“Yeah, yeah,” they’d say, “you have to go to Natural
to get that, but it’s expensive, you know?”
As long as she got her baby carrots, it was fine.
A city girl, she never really knew how things were
down in the dirt. Once in Prague her sister sent her
out to the garden to pick carrots for the salad.
My mother came back. “There are no carrots,” she said.
Her sister took her back to the garden, picked one
by its green top. “Noodnik,” she said, “they grow underground!”
Where Was Your Father Born?
“My father is German, was German, born
in a very wonderful place in Germany
so I have a very great feeling for Germany.”
My father was born in Brno, which is now in
the Czech Republic, and before that Czechoslovakia.
When he was born, in 1906, it was Moravia,
in the Austro-Hungarian Empire.
Sometimes he was born in California,
in the Plieto Hills near the San Joaquin Valley,
sometimes in Beersheba in the Holy Land.
He was born in Cape Town and Port Elizabeth,
and Patterson and Rome.
I asked him once why he was born in so many places.
“My mother moved around a lot,” he said
as he sat down to smoke and drink some wine.
He told me about Achilles, then, how his mother
dipped him in the River Styx
to make him proof against all weapons.
But she held him by the heel, so that part stayed soft
“Why didn’t she flip him over and dip him again?” I asked.
He looked at me for a long time as though trying
to figure out if I was really that son born to him in Shanghai.
“One dip to a customer,” he said, as he drained his glass.
© 2019 Steve Klepetar
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