The doctors said there was only a 2% chance he would survive.
He didn’t want to be a miracle boy;
just himself, though taller.
He didn’t want to be my Machu Picchu,
not even Matthew, my gift from God.
he staked his claim in the world.
My name is Matt.
He didn’t want a mother
with a satchel of worries,
who wove stories from falling stars.
He wanted to explore outer space,
to float without the gravity
of a mother’s love.
He dreamed himself
a paleontologist at four,
hungered for facts,
set in ancient bone.
Doctor in the making,
he is still a man of facts,
softened by love and marriage.
When his fathering time comes,
I wonder what stories he will weave.
I come from small town Amerika
with a schmear of Yiddishkeit.
Grandma Frieda fashioned on the streets of Kiev, Grandpa Charlie in a Russian ghetto.
They spoke mama loshen, mother’s tongue,
and Greenhorns’ English, sewn into
sweat shops on the lower East Side.
The Four Tinkelman brothers
sailed up the Hudson to build a dress factory,
no unions in their way.
Scores of women labored in rows of Singers.
My grandparents, expert tailors,
never taught us to sew.
Our fingers were meant to turn pages not fabric.
For what did we walk across Europe?
Flavored with Grandma Frieda’s chicken soup,
I floated in her fragrant brew,
sucked the feecelah of young hens.
Steamrolled into an iron pot,
my parents cast off their European flavors.
Named Nora, mommy morphed into Norma.
Why, we asked, preferring Nora.
Nora was an Irish maid’s name.
Mommy married my daddy,
Jack, a philanderer, on the rebound.
He went mad, danced into the abyss.
Mommy fled to her family,
children in hand, desperate for divorce.
Grandpa Charlie refused to help.
It would be a shanda for di goyim.
So, we moved around the corner.
Daddy’s new wholesale candy business
coated us with sugar. Endless Milky Ways,
Mars Bars, Double Bubble.
Every Friday night, we lit Shabbos candles,
ate roast chicken and challah.
Then prayed at Temple Beth-El
with a litany of Tinkelmans:
Grandma Frieda, Grandpa Charlie,
Aunt Gert, Uncle Abe, Aunt Helen,
Uncle Norman, Aunt Roz, Uncle Joe,
Diane, Vera, Shelley, Joe,
Randy, Jeffrey, and Steven.
I belonged to that Tinkelman clan.
My Daddy, the lone Neustadt in town.
When he was flying, money flowed.
Broadway shows, illegal fireworks,
a stream of epicurean adventures.
When his market crashed, he darkened.
After 28 years of playing around,
mommy finally threw him out.
Me. I’m a mishmash.
Wrapped in endearments of people
long gone; I still hear the echoes.
Ziese, shana madele, Lesincoo, Leslele.
As American as a bagel,
with a schmear of Yiddishkeit.
CHILD OF MY CHILD
Baptized with sunlight,
you birth new shoots,
cast me in your puddled joy.
Renew my faith in the miracle
of in and out and in again.
Disarmed, I fall
through your rabbit hole,
nourished by your delight.
THE SALT WARS, CIRCA 2010
Trade routes…were established, alliances built, empires secured, and revolutions provoked all for something that fills the ocean, [and] bubbles up from springs…
—Mark Kurlansky, Salt: A World History
We eye each other warily,
no longer certain of the steps
in this lifelong dance of mother and son.
He brash, I bedeviled in this covenant of salt.
Salt the latest skirmish, rife with rocky deposits,
both preserver and provocateur.
For my son, Benjamin, salt is the Holy Grail.
Salting a rite of sanctification.
He creates crystalline castles
with fleur de sel from Provence.
Sprinkles holy bread with salt
blackened in Hawaiian volcanoes.
Coaxes the scarlet flesh of heirloom tomatoes
to give up their souls for our pleasure.
Bathes turbot in brine until it bursts
forth like the evening star.
Unrefined, I season our food
with worried grains.
When I take up Benjamin’s salty challenge,
I recall how we dip greens in salt
to remember our ancestors’ tears.
I remember blessing my sons,
Become the salt of the earth.