Jennifer L. Freed – Imposter

Jennifer L. Freed
Imposter

Our parents
don’t seem to notice.
But soon after we unfold ourselves
from the long drive north, we
know: Grandma
must have been taken, may even be
dead.

Her body
is there, in the kitchen, cooking,
cleaning, knowing where
to put the spatula, the sponge, the bread,

but her eyes dart,
and dart away. Her arms,
when we cuddle, are cold.
She does not cup our cheeks with tender hands,
or cover them with kisses.

And when we try to call her back, she spins
with stony eyes,
spits, No, you don’t. You never
did. And I
never loved you,
either.

Robin Helweg-Larsen – Jam Jar

Robin Helweg-Larsen
Jam Jar

In the night’s jam jar of my memory
My long-dead parents live as fireflies.
My thoughts of them worn by time’s emery,
Their faint light still suggests where my path lies.

Barbara E. Hunt – Mending

Barbara E. Hunt
Mending

How sibling, best friend, parent, child
can be that thread which snags

or wears, though shot-straight-through
our steadfast hearts, unravels

letting latched twines loosen
to slump the weave to nothingness.

Sharp tool. Tough line. Taken beyond
the tattered edge by patient hand

to backstitch; somehow recreate
our interlocking strands.

Dianne Kellogg – Monotropa Uniflora

Dianne Kellogg
Monotropa Uniflora

Monotropa Uniflora:
Ghost Pipes, Indian Pipes, Corpse Plant
pale, wax museum flower
sequestered in the deep Beech forests
of three continents, rare.
Step softly
on the leaf litter, humus, moss
translucent stems won’t bend.
Found with mystical Druid stock,
relies on the ruminations of Russulaceae,
mushroom cud, that nestles without
light or air
parasite on parasite,
three generations,
two manifestations
emanations from a buried
Beech tree root.
Tread softly
ghosts tolerate temporal creatures
parasitic or fruitful
but barely.

Dianne Kellogg, Ghost Pipes, digital image, 2018

Lynn M. Knapp – Elizabeth

Lynn M. Knapp
Elizabeth

I did not expect to find her here,
faded, folded, held in darkness
in a dusty box,
my grandmother’s
grandmother.
I did not expect
to know her,
a woman
from muddy streets
of warring Missouri,
lifting blue sateen skirts,
tiptoeing
in laced kidskin boots,
skirting puddles,
pleat-edged bonnet and stray curls
lifting on the breeze.
I did not imagine
a glint in pale blue eyes,
quenched these many years,
could still hold me.

Jennifer Davis Michael – Family Music

Jennifer Davis Michael
Family Music

We sleep chastely at your parents’ house:
you in the basement, full of silent history,
I among the relics of your boyhood.
Tonight, I lie awake under a quilt
stitched by hands I will never know.

I listen to the household symphony:
you and your mother doing the cooks’ dance,
your sister showering before her graveyard shift,
dog and baby pattering staccato on the floor,
ignoring papa’s deep-voiced directions.

I hear this music only from backstage.
To hear it is to know, not them, but you
–my new love, bringer of strange melodies–
as I drift to sleep here in your childhood bed,
alone but wrapped in a seductive tune.

Felicia Mitchell – A Poem for Lost Ancestors

Felicia Mitchell
A Poem for Lost Ancestors

I wonder who they are, the missing links,
as I stare at a few small red strips on a DNA report
that reflects the history of the peopling of South Carolina
in my one genome.
All my ancestors travelled far to make me, I know,
and I know so many of them, already,
but not all of them.

There was an underground railroad.
I think there was another railroad
some of my ancestors had to travel too.
It ran not from south to north or east to west
but from generation to generation,
their lineage stitched in the pockets of genes
as invaluable as silver coins sewn into skirts.
With each child born, another coin spent,
colour in South Carolina determined who went in what door
or drank at what water fountain
and who stayed home to clean house
or who married whom and who moved
to Paris, or another neighbourhood, to start over.
I want somebody to take me there,
to that point of departure when
a trade was made, unfair as a fast train
spiriting away a girl coloured by a society’s prejudice and fear.
I close my eyes and see her waving from the metaphorical train,
waving at everyone who came before her as she passed on
and into me—so white she has become a ghost of herself.
I want to call back and call her Granny.

Joyce Parkes – How

Joyce Parkes
How
                   in memory of Jeanette Dubois

The mother of my father
married the brother of her mother.
Her maiden and her
married name were the same.
Telling my dentist that I too had

a Jewish grandmother, he smiled.
To be a Jew, one’s mother
must be one as well.
Might a DNA test tell, nowadays?
The dwellings of my father’s

mother in the monsoon of her
years leaves me to
wonder, in the winter of mine,
how I was related to
Jeanette Dubois, my Tante,

who was beaten to death
for smuggling salt into
an internment camp built in
Bandung – a city once
known as the Paris of Java.

bart plantenga – Happy Birthday Mother, Who Was Disappeared…

bart plantenga
Happy Birthday Mother, Who Was Disappeared by Forces Beyond Her Control

             in memory of Christina Plantenga 14 May 1925 – 22 August 2018
 
The decline of my mother, Christina, 93 on 14 May, had been a slow, long descent since I was a teen. But when does a life suddenly become less a tragic testimony to survival and more of a burden — you are not sitting around waiting or hoping your mother dies. But then again, there is the tick of a clock, and discussions arise about what dignity is, what the purpose of mere longevity is … how heavy is an urn filled with ashes anyway?

In my youngest youth, she was beautiful and loving. When I post a picture of her on Facebook, people usually react something like: “Wow, she’s beautiful.” What they mean is the photo, taken in 1949. I could feel her heart back then was full of noble intent.

Regarding dementia: I wonder, do you forget you forget and thus actually remember diving through a heavy fog with the high beams on and ultimately coming out on the other side without a dent or scratch?

As I turned 13 or so, seven years after we’d emigrated from Amsterdam to New Jersey, her inability to navigate her way through reality became more evident. Things, jokes, music began to bug her — or not reach her or were simply details of life that could not explain what she had experienced. Being from a generation when women in general did not feel it their place, her talent as an artist was never really pursued as expression, as therapy, as a way to make sense of the senseless things she had witnessed in Amsterdam during WWII. It just was not perceived as useful in any way.

Her loving was misplaced, replaced instead by a kind of obsession with the formalities of mothering, the rituals, the cleaning, the forbidding — the mechanics, the maintenance of order. This increased over time and even while me and my brother were growing up, neighbourhood kids would mock and tease my mom and call her “Crazy Tina”.

She wasn’t “crazy” (then), just very other, different, an awkwardness with English that was both charming and, among the neighbour kids, tagged here as weird. I never tried to analyse it until about 10 years ago, when I realized her life had probably been more adversely affected by WWII than we had ever thought. She was a teen in Amsterdam and had had her best years confiscated by circumstance, and any hopes she had for using her artistic inclination toward something more satisfying in life somehow became secondary to survival and recovery. [She did do the suburban thing — hobby painting in her down time as a mother, but they were mostly idyllic nature scenes with no faces on the leaves, no ghostly human-like figures in the background]. I don’t like to use any kind of excuse when it comes to behaviour, but there is a difference between excuse and cause and now after she’s told me so many of her WWII stories and now that I’ve processed them, I realize people were simply expected to bite their lips and go on with life after 1945. There was no civilian equivalent of shell shock, no PTSD.

This is from her journals I asked her to write down. She obediently obliged and, with the onset of dementia, she obliged again and again, rewriting them with slight variations a total of four times. I mean, when had I and ANYone ever really listened to ANYthing she had to say:

Hunger Winter: A terrible cold and nasty winter entire Europe 1943-44: Ice snow no food. No nothing. No heat. Everything was gone. People did go trough [sic] the garbage cans — you were really lucky to find one piece of food or some wood you could burn to warm your hands. I was the kind of person who was very fast cold so at night we left our socks on at least it did help.

My shoese got bad and no shoese in stores. The Krauts took all the shoese out the stores. I did not have a descend pair so going to work barefeet or on socks. It was really very strange to walk Overtoom on the stone sidewalk with no shoese on, cold and unpleasant. The socks where very quick gone on the stonen sidewalks.

Found a pair of sandals from cork material in garbage cans but they were quick gone but better than nothing and my dad did make soles under it and that is what I did wear to work better than nothing for quite some time. Also later on when winter came my ankles were open wounds and hurted. Mom put bandage on it but it was hopeless. Later on dad found old ice skating boots from mom on the attic and he made them to low shoese and put some extra stuf on the soles. They where nice and did holds up quite a long time. 2 years!

Hans Puts’ father did give us bread again. Also we tryed now fryed sugar beets and small tulip bulbs — the aftertaste was terrible but realy filling food. At night in bed you did hear your stomach ronking from hunger. next morning we had cabage soup. It was warm and tasted good. we did get 2 potatos for family also 2 at work. We cooked them up with straw heating and tasted good at work. It was heaven.

Foppe Plantenga, Plantenga Family, New Jersey, 1961, photograph

She became a housewife in 1953, a mother in 1954 and was displaced to a foreign land — the US — where she was never to feel totally at home again. Her inability to deal with these changes went unnoticed — and they were many and probably often more despairing and desperate than parents let on to their kids — as we became not unlike a migrant family, albeit my father was a white collar worker, a metallurgical engineer, a migrant who wore a tie.

She managed to explain it when she was maybe 80-something as: ‘I was a city girl who lived in the suburbs. There was no one to talk to; you never saw neighbours. They ignored you.’ Something like that.

We moved a LOT, so everywhere we landed we had to start over, to prove we weren’t weird as immigrants. Even though my mother had a wicked [embarrassing] accent and a different approach to mothering than my friends’ moms, I stupidly longed for the approach of the other moms, who were seldom around, who let you fix whatever you wanted for dinner.

Her unhingedness or her engagement, her passion with forethought could be quite entertaining, gonzo, uninhibited, unlike other moms. She tried decorum, but it was not her thing. We even joined a church to see if this would help us fit in. I saw no purpose to Bible lessons and my father hated wasting Sunday mornings sitting in a pew. Decorum was just not her thing; she spoke her mind regardless of what that might do for my or her reputation.

All that, plus what I learned from my mother’s [war] stories about privation, angst, traumatic stress, seeing her Jewish friends disappear forever, never knowing for certain, seeing people killed, executed, bombs going off, having almost nothing to eat, probably had a profound effect on her brain.

The last time she came to visit she was curious and we walked into the Legmeerplein, the square where she’d grown up in, and we sat on a bench and suddenly she told the most vivid, cinematic stories about gangs of pro-ally v pro-NSB [the Nazi-supporters], how some NSBers betrayed neighbours to the Nazis for a few guilders or extra food coupons, how one night the Nazis bombed a sand barge on the Schinkel and the house and square were covered in sand. How suddenly someone would no longer be around and you didn’t really talk about it….

She is now suffering advanced dementia and that is mostly bad. Although, I wonder if she also forget all of those haunting WWII memories and so, ironically, is finally left at peace. I sense not, however, since I gather the formative years are forever etched into the walls of one’s brain like graffiti scratched onto a bathroom wall, while short-term memories are nothing more than a dandelion’s fluffy plumes whisked away by a brisk wind. That was confirmed by her caretaker in her current nursing facility in Upstate NY, where I would sometimes bring or send her articles about Resistance heroes or pictures of Amsterdam during and after the war… The caretaker begged me kindly to not send her any more memories of those times because she was driving everyone in the house crazy with non-stop memories and insisting others had no idea what the war was like for people like her…. AQ

Jo-Anne Rosen – Family Again

Jo-Anne Rosen
Family Again

The last time I saw my father I was six. He had driven from Miami to Flatbush for Christmas and was sleeping on a mat near the flocked tree. Mama was sleeping with her second husband, Eduardo Aguilar or Daddy Ed, a wiry man who tolerated my mother’s mood swings and visiting ex-husband.

For years afterward I confused my father with Saint Nick. He was round and jolly with a thick blonde beard and suitcase full of gifts. And then he vanished like smoke. We relocated to a hippie commune in northern California. Daddy Ed and Mama had two more children. Eventually they divorced. But Ed raised me, so he’ll always be my real father.

I was a smart-ass boy who rarely sat still. Mama would say I was going to wind up in the nut house like Daddy Jack. ‘He checked into Bellevue for six months,’ she’d say. ‘Watch your step, buster.’

‘Where’s he at now?’ I’d ask.

‘I have no idea. On the moon for all I care.’

Thirty-five years after that Christmas in Flatbush up pops an email from Jack Nelson. Subject: Family Reunion? He’s tracked me through the Internet. My grandmother has left a small bequest for me. (What grandmother? I was told she’d died before I was born.) He’s living in Oakland and would like to drive up to Red Bluff to see me. I reply that he might also like to see his two granddaughters. His next email is signed “Grandpa Jack.”

I phone my mother. She isn’t interested.

‘I’m a little curious,” I say. “Aren’t you?’

‘The SOB thinks he can buy his way back into your life,’ she says in that flat voice that means end of story.

My wife is more excited than I am.

‘I’m not going to work up a lather over this, Anita,’ I tell her.

‘But he’s your natural father!’

I shrug. ‘He abandoned us, remember?’

‘Blood is blood,’ she says.
 
Jack pulls up on schedule in a beat-up VW bug, its back seat piled high with bags and tools. He extracts himself slowly. He has gotten quite fat, his beard and hair white, his cheeks red-veined. He is wearing black pants, a black sweater and beret, and he walks with a cane. The two girls and Anita hang back shyly while we shake hands and eye each other.

I do resemble him physically. I see the ghost of Christmas future, my own belly billowing hugely. He doesn’t seem to be a lunatic though. In fact, he is a genial, witty fellow. There are gifts in one of the bags for the children, who warm up to Grandpa Jack quickly. He watches them through bifocals with a bemused expression. They are thin and dark like their mother.

Anita brings out dish after dish, and our guest eats it all with relish. We learn that he never remarried but has lived with several women and traveled widely.

‘I’m a jack of all trades and master of none,’ he says cheerily.

We stay up late drinking the bottle of cab he brought us and reviewing the past three decades, then on to film, books, politics, art. Our tastes are eerily similar. He likes Italian and French films, Tony Hillerman mysteries. We both have dabbled with painting and sculpture. He plays mouth harp, and I noodle around on a guitar. Even our voices sound alike.

When we are alone, Anita says, ‘So what about that diet, Andrew?’

I’m up early the next morning as usual. Jack is already in the kitchen drinking coffee, his imposing bulk still swathed in black; hair and beard damp, smelling of soap. He’s brought in the newspaper and filled in my crossword puzzle completely, in ink. Everyone else is asleep.

We regard each other cautiously across the table.

‘I should have tried to find you sooner,’ he says. ‘I did try once years ago, but your mother and Eduardo hid their tracks too well.’

‘I could have tried, too. But I assumed you weren’t interested.’

We are quiet, considering our next moves.

‘Were you ever really interested?’ I ask finally.

He looks at me intently. ‘See, I thought you’d be pissed at me.’

‘I never gave it much thought,’ I say.

‘Well, I’m glad I came,” he beams. “We can start fresh.’

I don’t reply.

‘So, you are pissed.’

‘Alright, I’m pissed.’

He chews on that for a while. Then: ‘Don’t you want to know about your grandmother? Do you even know her name?’

I shrug.

‘Louise. I wish you could have met her. She was a marvellous woman, and she never stopped asking about you. You had a grandfather, too, of course. He died when I was 16. You have an aunt and uncle, cousins.’

Upstairs a muted shout, the sounds of my family awakening.

‘The girls will want to know about their family someday,’ he persists.

I stare at him. Maybe there’s no getting away from him now. Or maybe he’ll vanish again, this time forever. Meanwhile, here he is, fat and sassy and in my face, and he’s ruined my Sunday crossword.

‘I was too messed up to be a father,’ he says. ‘I’m sorry it happened that way.’

‘Sorry?’ I repeat. ‘Really? Since when?’

‘Since now. I can’t undo what’s done. It was my bad luck, not yours. You turned out fine, as far as I can tell.’

No thanks to you, I almost say, but he seems so bewildered and downcast, I relent.

‘Do you play chess, Jack?’ I ask, instead.

‘Sure do.’ His face lights up.

I haul out my set. He picks up the ceramic pieces one by one, fingers them.

‘You made these?’

I nod. It’s from my cubist phase. The pieces have sudden sharp angles, clashing colors, weirdly juxtaposed body parts. The one-eyed bishop is a terror.
 
‘Nice work,’ he says. Jack anticipates my every move and vice-versa.

‘Damn,’ he says, looking surprised. ‘I’m sure I taught you how to play.’

‘What’s this, a recovered memory?’

‘I do remember playing chess with you, and by candlelight. A storm knocked out the power. I made all the pieces from wine corks and wire, I swear that’s true. Ask your mother. You were three or four, whip smart.’

‘Uh uh.’ I shake my head. ‘Daddy Ed taught me to play chess.’

‘Maybe he did,’ he says. ‘The second time.’

He stays with us three days. We play several games of chess, without talking much, unless chess is a kind of language. By the time he leaves I’m one game ahead, which seems to please him. Then the bags go back in the VW, despite Anita’s coaxing.

‘After all this time, you could stay a little longer,’ she says. She hugs him, and so do the girls, giggling because they can’t get their arms around his girth.

I offer my hand.

‘Let’s stay in touch,’ he says, pumping my hand, and then hugging me. ‘We’re family again, right?’

I want to believe him. But when I step back, a little dazed from the bear hug, his eyes are focused elsewhere, as if he’s already moving on down the road again and we are fading into memory. So I don’t believe him.

‘Bon voyage’ is all I say.

After he leaves, Anita begs me to stay in touch with him for the sake of the children.

‘Don’t keep them from their grandfather,’ she says, ‘just because your mom kept you from yours.’

I tell her Mom was wrong about a lot of things, but not about Jack. ‘He doesn’t really want a family. He wants another feel-good moment.’

‘How do you know that?’ she demands. ‘You’re not always right, either.’

‘Nor are you.’

She glares at me and stomps out of the room, muttering something about a stubborn asshole.

‘Alright!’ I shout after her. ‘If Jack stays in touch with me, I’ll stay in touch with him.’

I’ll bet that never happens. AQ