Yossi Faybish - hobbies - prose
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Birth

    I don't remember any of my circumcision. Better I don't. I carry with me living proof that it was performed sometime in my past, and at times I wonder if the guy didn't do too good a job out of it. Not that I bear him any grudge or carry some hidden trauma, after all he had a job to do. There are tailors, there are engineers, there are... this.

    I don't remember any of the events preceding it neither. Most of it is hearsay, much of it is stories, and all of it is from rock solid reliable sources as you can imagine. I wouldn't include it here otherwise. Of course I won't ask for your approval or opinion, if I do there will be no book and you will all go fishing. Thus I will simply dump it on you. OK? And to those wondering - yes, I AM insured...

    OK, stories, let's see. Let's start with the first event linked to my creation, and I don't mean what you mean, you naughty naughty... my parents never did this kind of thing, of course. I mean that other event, when I was already about the size of a billiard ball and my mother's belly about the size of a basket ball meaning we were both at an advanced stage of growing, I internally and she externally. Thus I could not participate in the action directly but I was forced to participate indirectly. Real fun it was... I guess?! You see, around the time my parents married they inherited this small and black and white and sharp and noisy and fiery mongrel bitch, God knows from where, why, and even when exactly. I believe they had no recollection of the details. Not very usual, as it happens, for a Jewish family with traditional background to own a dog, certainly not at that time - end of the forties, and certainly not at that place - some forgotten little town in the north of poor Romania. They probably didn't even know they loved the silly wild creature till that one special day when the poor silly wild creature was run over by a carriage. Correct, carriage and not car, as there were no cars in that place, nobody ever saw one in "flesh", and they were masked out even in the movies. The closest to a car there, was the train. Luckily the dog was not hit by a train. It was high noon when one of the neighbors came rushing over to my mom telling her between various commiserating sounds, tasting her cakes, and mentioning the problems she had with her lumbago, that the dog was run over. I am not sure if the main reason was the dog or the cakes, and neither was my mom sure or care.

    Now, you have to know that for those people at that time in that place, my parents included, superstition was a religion. If a cat crossed their way they returned home. If somebody cursed them they would spit three times, and if a pregnant woman touched an animal her newborn will resemble this animal. Fact. As clear as the shining sun that very day. So you can imagine the street-long awe when my mom, with this huge belly containing billiard ball sized me almost touching her chin, rushed down the long flight of stairs, picked up the bloodied figure from the middle of the cobbled street, and rushed with it on foot, god knows what distance, to the only medic in town (there was no such thing as a "vet") she trusted. It was our neighbor from downstairs who worked at the town hospital. It was not to be done. She did it.

    Doc saved dog. Don't have the details except that it was touch or go and touch got the upper hand. A limping beast returned home in her arms, licking her hands to bone clean and whimpering with pain and love. My mom courageously braved the noses peeking from behind each curtained window and entered the courtyard to our home. The street... well, the street were heavily betting on the shape of my ears and the size of my tail. Some even ventured to talk about the length of my muzzle. Clearly something to be followed closely by self appointed volunteers once the time arrived. The time arrived. It so happened they all lost their bets.

    I decided to get born this one beautiful hot summer night, somewhere around the midnight of a sweaty Friday, in the one yellow bulb lighted room of the local dilapidated hospital. I started by trying several times to get out straight onto my feet like any reasonable human being would, and the doctors insisting again and again that I should come out head first. The ignorants. The one I would later on call mama labouring and crying for almost a full day in terrible pain with nose-high me completely ignorant of the fact, and the one I would later on call tata screaming at the doctors "get him out even in pieces, just get him out, he's killing my wife..." Don't forget the time and the place, it was maybe called hospital, with emphasis on maybe... Finally I did it, tore my way out into the world, got pissed off at what I found, and decided there was a mistake somewhere in the planning. So I got out dead. Yes, dead, you know, dead like not alive, like a piece of wood, or a lump of clay if you insist. They, the doctors, the midwife, tried hot water then cold water then hot water... dead I stayed dead. Nothing left to do with such losers as myself, so they threw me aside and started dealing with my mother. Relieved as she was and so in pain, she still had the power to lament and be so sorry because my dad so wanted a son... Women... first they scream then they are sorry... ha, women...

    I don't remember clearly what happened to me. My brain must have been too small and too under oxygenated to remember what happened. Did I have a sudden change of mind? Maybe. Probably being swayed by the events I was somehow witnessing, not to mention starting feeling sorry for myself as I was lying there rolled up in bloodied cold towels, forgotten, naked, blue... that while they were patching her up I decided it is about time for me to give it nevertheless a try. What the heck, all of them seemed to have made it somehow and get to some reasonable age. Maybe I should try too? So I let out my first scream. Surprisingly surprised they were surprisingly kind of happy. The doctors the surprised part, my parents the happy part. The more I think of it the more persuaded I am they were. My parents I mean. Happy I mean. Otherwise how could I explain the love they showered me with for the rest of my life from that moment on?

    * * *

    The news spread like wild fire in a dry wheat field. It was a big event in my house, huge. No, not my coming home, sorry, so sorry, I may have misled you. The big event was not my coming home but my coming home to a house full of newly born babies. Don't start guessing, I will tell you. Did I tell you about my parents' small black white sharp noisy fiery mongrel bitch? I did. What I didn't tell was that this lady, even a dog she was, had such a following and renown in our in(ha)clusive neighborhood, that no sane male dog in town that cared a tiny bit about his reputation could resist her. They all visited her. And some of the very few she graciously accepted to embrace in her daily adventures became unwilling fathers to a new generation of snappy wild mongrels. Not season in and season out but EVERY season. She didn't mind the fathers disappearing on her once the deed done; but the puppies, she simply loved with wildest wolf ferocity. And right then, just as my mom was coming home with the screaming bundle in her hands, the cheeky little mongrel decided it's time to compete for the front of the stage and she came out with a salvo of not less than five squealing puppies herself. My goodness. The noise was probably so deafening, the event so shattering, that it would have gotten first page in the local newspaper had there been any local newspaper.

    End of story? Of course not, otherwise I wouldn't have started it. Well, well, well, thought to herself my parents' brooding hen (they had a hen too, you see, not a mongrel this one). Well, well, well, thought to herself the red feathered querulous minded worms eater. Funny species are you: one featherless chick coming with mama, ha, five furred chicks coming with mama's wolf, haha, let me show you what a real chicken looks, does, and acts like. So she showed them. And to the one featherless chick, and to the five furred chicks, the madam added her own cacophony of a sharp unmistakable sounding chorus of a dozen newly hatched small yellow feathered chicks this time. I don't know who drank whose milk and who ate whose worms and who slept in whose bed or lair or den. I do know that the house has become a symbol of fertility, and Boldog Asszony (the Hungarian fertility goddess, Romanians never had one so I had to loan from the neighbors, sorry...) was probably proud. My parents? I mean - my parents in all that? Well, I think they... loved it. And they kept telling me and repeating the story not dozens, but dozens of dozens of dozens of times. Not only because they wanted to but mostly because I kept pestering them to, later on when I was able to pester. Which does not mean I grew into a pest. I don't think so.

    * * *

    Just a sec, how did I get into all this nostalgic stuff? Ah, the story of my circumcision... Hey, really, it was just an excuse to tell you the way it all started for me. I don't really think you want to go into details about it. There is rather more stuff I really do remember myself, not just being told, and which I want to tell you about. Scary, isn't it? The fact that there is more coming and you can do nothing about it...

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Kindergarten, Betrayal

    I fell asleep with my father's hand rocking the bed in an unending motion. In this one room one kitchen house, I slept in my parents' room. Half asleep I kept nagging each night... "...leagănă, leagănă..." ("...sway, sway...") and obligingly he rocked my bed till I fell asleep. I loved my bed, though it was getting small on me - brown bars, brown chewed legs (the dog of course, not me), brown curved bars at the base allowing the smooth swaying motion. Once I tried it myself while lying inside and I rocked so hard that it toppled on its side and my parents didn't know if first to laugh or first to worry. Since I regarded them scared but unhurt, they decided to laugh. And I decided to rely fully on my father's hand next time.

    I woke up as a soft voice kept calling my name with different intonations.

    "Ioji, Iojica, Ioynole..." Romanian is rich in endearing diminutives. So is Yiddish, the Jewish language my parents often lapsed into. And those names mentioned are only some of the possible variations. It sounded so good that it almost called for further sleep. But I loved my kindergarten, loved the kindergarten mistress Elvira, and getting up early just helped get the fun start early. I got down from bed and my mom helped me get dressed. There was no running water in the house so with some shivers I symbolically wet my face with water from an iron bowl, peed through the window in the courtyard behind the house, and was ready for breakfast. It was the same food every morning and I loved it. I knew in the back of my mind that nothing else is actually available, still - I really loved it. My mom prepared one big hot tin cup of warm milk with chicory, then she put pieces of dry bread in it, and fed me with a teacup till it was empty. I hated eating by myself, and she loved feeding me, so all parties enjoyed the ceremony. The dog was long ago out of the house, when my father went to work he let her out, but I knew I will find her in the street to greet me on my way.

    I finished the cup, picked up the sandwiches tin box with the two loafs of bread spread thickly with black cherries comfiture (my preferred...) and left for the kindergarten. It was half an hour's walk, and sometimes I met other kids going the same way. This day I got there without meeting anybody. I used the opportunity to pick up a long thin lilac stick and on the way I cut viciously a few flower heads. Some kids arrived earlier so I threw my lunchbox in the classroom and rushed out to play with them. They found an opening in the fence to the adjoining puppets factory and were busy looking for glass eyes. I had a small collection myself and every time I found one was a small personal victory. I exchanged them at times for pieces of other kids' food. This time, same as all the other times, we were scrapping the ground and investigating the factory's garbage cans, when I saw it - round, big, brown. Another kid, Ionel, saw it at the same time. I leaped for it, scrapped the ground with my fingernails to collect it, and started running. The other kids started chasing me, though they knew they had no chance, nobody could catch me. I could run almost as fast as my dog, and within seconds climb a tree, climb a roof, slide in a dark basement... They gave up fast, threw a few stones after me, and returned to the searching. Elvira started calling for us to get in and we entered the kindergarten class. I loved it. It was a small two rooms building, one room with small chairs and a big closed fireplace and hundreds of books, the other room with small chairs as well, and loaded with puppets, wooden colored blocks, colored pencils and lots of white paper. I could already read, and many times got lost undisturbed in a corner of the room sunk in the world of heroes and beautiful maidens and terrible dragons. From time to time I found some poems, I loved poems. Elvira usually left me to myself, as long as she knew where to find me she didn't mind me not joining in the games. One kid less to worry about.

    This time she was going to read us a story. I joined the other kids on the floor around her as she started reading. I knew the story, probably most of the kids did. But listening to her had something magical to it, one timely, like the story turning real before my very eyes. The story was called The Goat and her Three Kids. The goat had to leave for shopping in town and told her three kids not to open the door to anyone, especially not to the wolf. So when the wolf came and asked them to open the door they did not. Then the shrewd wolf went to a blacksmith to sharpen his tongue, to make his voice sound thinner. The two big kids opened the door, while the little one hid. So the wolf ate the two but not the little one.

    It was not a sad story, it was a story with a lesson to it, that's the way I always took it and compared to Little Red Hood it was even much less bloody. And I both read it and heard it several times already, however the fascination stayed. Especially since I knew what follows after a story reading - a game based on the story. This time some of us will have to hide and the others will have to find them. I was great at hide'n'seek games, rarely someone succeeded to find me and I asked of course to be with the hiding party. Elvira agreed, and after several seconds of hesitation I found my hiding place, I hid... inside the fireplace, up the chimney, just like the goat's little kid. It was dark, dirty, smelly, but this never bothered me. Especially with "so much" at stake. The other two kids hid in the usual places, one under a desk, one above the fireplace, behind the chimney.

    You can imagine the roar in the small room as they were looking for me (the others were found almost instantly) and could not find trace of me. The kids kept looking the same places again and again, even picking at the floor boards, while Elvira kept looking at the old clock on the shelf, eyeing my direction from time to time, and smiling undecidedly. I was following them all through a crack in the chimney, and felt, proudly so, their growing disbelief. Some even ventured outside, though they knew there was no chance for me to have gone there. It was great, they will have to give up and then I will get out with that well known victoriously inflated chest of mine and the not lest familiar "I'm the best" smile painted upon my face. I loved winning, and actually hated losing was a better description of it. I was ready even to spend the night there if necessary. Well, I was but my teacher was not. And as I kept spying them all through the crack, I just could not believe my eyes when I saw her suddenly giving a short nod with her head to a kid, showing him where I was, and then looking away as if nothing happened. Betrayed.

    No, Elvira, no... was what I felt like shouting. Tears invaded my vision, my beloved teacher betrayed me, this kind of thing does not happen, it happens only in stories... I started sobbing, the black sooth sinking deep inside my throat and my fingernails digging inside the soft bricks layer. I got out before they would come and get me, dirty, covered with ash and doing my best to dry my eyes while the best I could do is smear the dirt further. I looked at Elvira with a long accusing look, all the childish indignation accumulated in me focused in this one long silently accusing look. Traitress. She kind of winced, not ready and not expecting this kind of vicious reaction on my part, so much stronger than any physical reaction or tantrum might have been. After all it was just a game. No, not for me, it was not. It was a competition of wits and I was cheated out of my rightful victory. You betrayed me, Elvira, and my eyes were screaming pain. This day she lost my admiration. This day I suddenly grew older. She became just my kindergarten teacher, and no more the admired leader of my childish dreams. And for me it was my first lesson in mistrust. So early in my life.

    I came home, gave my mom the dirty clothes, refused to eat, and climbed into the attic. I took the dog with me. Her wet tongue was the only thing that could help me overcome this world's injustices. I fell asleep with my head on her warm belly.

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Kindergarten, Field Trip

    A hand gently shook me awake. It was around five in the morning and I knew it was not my turn to complain. We all dressed fast and went to town. The rumour said that today there will be salad oil in a few shops and my parents wanted to ensure that we get some too. It was nothing new, the same repeated itself with sugar, oranges, marmalade... We were getting up very early to catch a good place at the queues we knew will form soon at the relevant distribution centers. This time we stationed ourselves each one at a different queue, a bottle and cork in hand, waiting for the shops to open around seven in the morning. I was left by myself at my own queue, I knew the ritual so well that I could easily take my responsibility like any grown up around. I was not first but well positioned to get there before the oil would run out. I sat down on the sidewalk, doing my best not to fall asleep. Nobody tried to steal the queue, there was some kind of self discipline there linked to equality in misery that created a certain respect of each other. I was not the only kid waiting, some other kids mixed with the grown ups later on. Didn't know any of them.

    Two hours later I heard the clanking of the opening store and everybody got on their feet shaking the numbness from their limbs. Felt good being there with all those tall, silent, grey faced adults before me and behind me. I knew I am doing something important, I knew I am performing some kind of duty for my family and it made my chest swell with pride. We advanced slowly, each one presenting his empty one litre bottle with the money and the rationing stamp and getting it filled from a big barrel via a tin funnel. My turn came, I paid, gave my stamp and watched the oily liquid get up to the mark on my bottle. I corked it and ran home. My parents were not yet there. I climbed to the roof of the shack holding our winter wood, then opened the window above it with a long nail and climbed into the house. My sandwiches were ready so I stuffed them in my pocket, kissed the dog, and descended the way I came. I did not want to be late to kindergarten today. We were going on a field trip and I was not going to miss it for anything in the world.

    I did not forget the earlier betrayal. But, fatalistic as any kid, I was taking with both hands all that life had to offer me and storing all extra luggage in a closed department for later use. When I got there the other kids were already getting organized in pairs, holding hands for the road. I didn't mind who my partner was, I loved the open space of the field we were going to, I spent there so much time with my friends, the thought blinded all my other senses. Don't even remember getting there till... there we were.

    The ground was soggy. I splashed all over the place, waiting any moment to be swallowed by the swamp as I saw in a French movie. The thought frightened me and drove me to try even harder. It was a mix of exaltation and morbidity that only kids know the sense of. Crazy people too. The forest edge was visible in the distance. The forest was the forbidden territory, I knew that. Snakes, wolves and bad sorceresses controlled every piece of ground there and I had absolutely no intention to be eaten alive. I picked up a stone and threw it in the forest's direction, with half of the boys following my example. Now, that my courage was proven beyond doubt, I could concentrate on playing with the others. We rushed to have a look at the small pool of accumulated rain water, but we didn't dare get any closer. None of us knew to swim and except for a few frogs - the "lake" was green with moss and didn't look interesting. Instead we got to our preferred game of hide'n'seek under the ever vigilant eye of Elvira. It changed soon after to who-throws-the-stone-farthest, and after about half an hour of that we fell on our sandwiches like hungry wolf cubs. Sitting on the dirty ground didn't present any problem, while Elvira opened some magical collapsible chair and sat on it. The air was warm, a bit humid, flies and butterflies by the thousands, wild yellow and red flowery carpets stretching for as far as the eye could see, and if I knew about heaven at the time I certainly could have defined it as that place. It was quiet, no other living thing around (except for the insects and the wolves in the forest, of course...), I felt like Robinson Crusoe whom I started to read several weeks ago. I lay on my back on the ground, the wet grass sticking to my shirt, my belly full, closed my eyes and fell asleep.

    I woke up to the sound of action. I rolled over on my belly and saw a group of kids kicking a ball around and shouting wildly. A ball... I've never seen a ball except on Saturday's when the family ritual was to go to the inter-city soccer game chewing-spewing dried pumpkin seeds and shouting our throats hoarse in support of our local team. And never owned one that was not made of old rags. This one was a rubber ball, soft, yielding. I jumped to my feet like lightning and rushed over to join the game. I closed in, looked at the ball... and suddenly I started charging the players instead of the ball, throwing each one of them to the ground with kid fury and kicking savagely. I wasn't the biggest but I was the wildest and strongest and on a one on one, no kid my age stood a chance. Some started throwing balls of mud at me but soon they gave up fighting, gave up the ball, and started chasing the hundreds of butterflies filling the fields. I kneeled close to the ball and tried to touch it. I saw the small needles contracting but no sign of life except for that. I pulled my sleeves down to cover my palms, picked up the small hedgehog between them and ran with it towards the forest, wolves or no wolves it did not matter anymore. No one followed me. I stopped, crouched down and slowly let the round spiky bundle slide down to the ground, waiting to see if it will unwind. I sat down close by and waited, watching silently. I don't know how long it took till I heard my teacher calling me. I was disappointed, the poor thing stayed coiled until I left, and didn't open up till I lost sight of it. But I knew that I had made a big discovery, one that I could not phrase clearly or correctly but was in some way a major one for my age - hedgehogs were not as impenetrable and protected as I had read in a children's book a few weeks back. They were soft and they could be hurt. And I cared. Maybe not only hedgehogs? I did not know at the time what kind of lesson this event taught me, but I sensed that it was probably a very important one, one to follow me all through life...

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The Diploma

    Eleven years old, almost on the nose. Summer was rapidly gaining its place of honour in the town, the blue and the green and the lilac's violet the dominant colors in my life. My age was not what was worrying me. Neither was the summer of course, with the big vacation approaching fast. It was rather my mom's wrath at what she was going to discover once I dragged my bloodied figure back home. So I did everything possible to postpone the moment by climbing a few more roofs and watching in awe down every tin drainpipe I could locate. Two of them had new nests in them, no eggs there yet but my joy at the sight eliminated any fear of things to come.

    I hated it when they called me jid. The other kids and some of the teachers. I did not take any special pride in my being Jewish and I hated it when someone was rubbing my nose into it. I soaked in, kid fasion, extremely fast the communist rationale of no God and equality to all, and being Jewish in this small town lost somewhere in the north of Romania was just an accident. My history was the Romanian history, and my heroes the national poet born in my town, and King Stefan who once ruled the county I lived in. I knew the first one's poems by heart and the second one's history book chapter by heart too. A proud Romanian boy.

    This time, as all the previous times, it happened with friends. We played "war" in the local public garden, my group was winning and someone got angry and called me jid. In a few minutes stones started flying and a few bleeding heads scattered to their respective homes. One of them was mine. None of us cried, tomorrow morning we will all be as good friends as ever. It was the going home, however, that was frightening. Finally I got no choice but to drag my body home. It was getting dark, and if I wanted to get out again after dinner for another round of playing, I had first to get home.

    My mom was busy in the kitchen, preparing dough for Saturday's sweet bread. I tried to sneak past her but the dog started yapping happily and she turned around to see me. I stopped, seeing her look at me, my eyes fixing a rusted nail somewhere on the wall and the dog wagging its butt of tail like it never saw me in three days. I expected everything, from a "your father will take care of you" to a serious spanking. Funny, not this time. I breathed with relief. She led me to a chair, took a towel and soaked it with water, then started cleaning the wound and then wiping away the dried blood. She didn't even ask what happened, it was not the first time that I returned bloodied back home from some street battle. But it was the first time that she seemed to take it easily, as if she didn't mind it at all. She just gave me a new shirt, asked me not to tell a thing to my dad, and went back to her chores.

    I was relieved. I knew my parents have been worried lately and I wondered whether this was the reason I got so easily off the hook this time. They have filled in forms for emigrating to Israel, and my father was afraid it will cost him his job. And the fears of an unexpected knock on the door in middle of the night... Securitatea... was wearing them down. None of which bothered me. The only worry I had was what will happen to our dog if we got permission to emigrate. The rest was grown ups worries. I ate my dinner and went out looking for my friends again, the hole in my head forgotten and new mischief in my mind. My mom just reminded me that next week the end of the school year's festivities will take place and I better keep out of trouble or she'll find this stick she kept threatening me with. It flashed for a moment in my mind - hey, this is the reason I got off so easily, she was so proud of my grades that she just didn't feel like punishing me... Just a flash, and off to the dark streets and to another few hours of playing. The plan for tonight being a raid of a dried apples stock in a dank cellar, where we hoped to get out with a nice booty of eight, ten apples each in our pockets.

    Monday arrived. I finished fourth grade with exceptional grades. Fourth grade, who cares? Well, I did, my parents did, and the whole town did. Food and clothing may have been scarce, but school was sacred and good end of year results, any grade, were considered a national treasure and were celebrated with pomp and fanfare music. I was number one all my previous three years, school wide. And every year the ceremony, the handshakes, the diploma of which three hung already at home above my bed. This was to be my fourth from this school. For my fifth year I was moving to another school, a mixed boys girls school, and I wanted to finish this year again as school's number one. I was. My teacher informed my parents that according to my grades that was the situation and they should expect my fourth diploma to be hung next to the other three.

    My father went to work as usual, he could not take a day off. But my mom was home and she was coming with me. Every previous year it was the same. The Sunday spent arranging her hair with those hot round iron pincers that curled her hair, following which she was binding the curls with colored small ribbons to fix them in place. Then on Monday she was dressing in her best of clothes, best of shoes. I was taking for once the second of my once a week bath, hating every moment of it but knowing it to be a necessity. Then, dressed in short blue trousers, white crisp shirt, short white socks, new shoes bought just for the occasion (and knowing they will give me blisters) and topping it all the freshly washed freshly ironed blood red pioneer necktie around my neck, the symbol of belonging, of excellence, my pride - we locked the door and went to the school. My mom carrying in her arms a freshly bought bouquet of white gladiolas, to offer the teachers once they will call me up to the stage for my diploma.

    We entered the big hall and looked around us, as always awed by the grandeur of the moment. The front rows were seats taken by all the important party hot shots and a few guests from out of town. Then the rest of the rows were taken by kids and parents, family members, friends. On the stage a long table with a green cover and about twenty chairs for the school teachers and some important guests that were supposed to deliver speeches for the occasion. And at floor level, at the right side of the stage, a few higher class pupils dressed in uniforms, with drums and trumpets and flags, ready for the occasion. We decided not to sit down, but rather wait standing up somewhere at the back of the hall, just to save me the embarrassment of having to crawl out between so many seated guests once I will be called up. My mom greeted a few faces, and was looking for my teacher, when the ceremony started without finding him. We knew, even the kids, that he had a drinking problem, yet it did not diminish any of his teaching skills. The kids loved him, I too.

    All rose to the national anthem. The drums beating the cadence, the trumpets calling in triumph, I felt that all this ceremony was for me and me only, school's number one again. My mom proud at my side, the flowers clamped tightly to her chest. Then everybody but us two sat down. The speeches started, I never paid attention, all these long words, interminable sentences, I was impatient, waiting for my turn, embarrassed yet one head higher than my usual size. My teacher was on the stage, got there late. We tried to catch his attention but didn't succeed, he looked a bit weary, kind of lost in a world of his own. Drunk again, I thought to myself, feeling a wave of love for the man that was guiding me for four years now.

    It was coming. The speeches were over, a restless movement passed through the seated audience as the schoolmaster rose from his chair, the list in his hand, ready to start calling the names of the best. Some heads turned around to look at us, they knew who will be called first. Drums again. Then the trumpets again. I started going forward even without waiting for my name to be called. I knew I am number one. I stopped. A name was called and something unclear registered on my mind. This name was not my name. A second name. A third. Not mine. Not mine. Kids were pushing through the rows of chairs, passing me on their way towards the stage, getting on it, shaking hands and getting handed pieces of cardboard paper. I was frozen in place. Tears started gathering in my eyes... something was wrong, something was terribly wrong. The last name was called out. Not mine either.

    I felt a shape storming past me, with unabatable, unabstainable fury. My mom's back rushing forward towards the front of the stage, stopping there for a moment and looking all those dignitaries accusingly in the face, and with one despising move throwing the flowers to the floor. Then she turned around without a word, took my hand and pulled my tearful shape out of the hall. At this moment, I fully realised for the first time in my life who I really was. I was a jid.

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Costache

    For my fifth school year I moved over to the mixed boys and girls school which was located closer to our street. It was the third year since the mix was allowed, and I didn't mind it at all, especially since the best pupil in my class and a direct competition to me was a beautiful beautiful beautiful girl named Tereza. I had absolutely no romantic inclinations at the time, girls were the absolute enemy to be battled on all fronts, and except for the fact that we played together after school till very late, and they brought beautiful presents to birthday parties, and our mothers were girls but of course of a different kind, and some other (quite a number of these other) reasons - all that girls were good for was for peeking underneath their skirts and seeing their panties. Most of which were pink colored.

    My first day's visit to the new school was not any different than that of millions of other kids worldwide. Someone stole my food, someone stole my chair, and at the end of the first day the three bullies on duty from my class tried of course to bully me. They should have known better, though it did not come to a real "showdown". They were just kicking my books bag on the floor and pushing me aggressively into a corner and it was almost getting into a fist fight when a girlish voice sounded in the empty classroom from the doorway admonishing them... leave him alone, what are you doing?... There is some respect in those "circles" for good and successful pupils, and as they looked around and saw that the one admonishing them was Tereza they simply picked up their stuff and left. I was thankful. I was not afraid of kids but I was afraid of teachers, especially of teachers writing letters to my parents about "bad behavior". I faced already some similar events in my life in the previous school, very unpleasantly so, and my intentions were extremely honorable when it came to preventing similar occurrences from happening here. And on this specific occasion, this event left lingering in my mind a certain surprising respect for this specific girl. It was something new. I guess it was the first break through in my boyish attitude of us versus them though it took about two more years till it developed into a let's approach them attitude.

    I gained my suitable position in the class quite fast. I had a good head, loved literature and math's, hated music and biology, a normal kid but better at most subjects than the others. And this was respected at those times in these places. My nose was never high, though I took pride in the fact that my picture was always high up on the "wall of honor" in the school, and I didn't mind other's envy either. After all - this was my personal worth.

    As always, the class was a mix of various characters from various backgrounds. Mostly Christian kids, a small number of Jewish kids, a few gypsies. The class included as well the inevitable "repeaters", mostly kids from an extremely poor background, fathers usually drunkards, broken families, and some simply just plain weak students. There were about five of those in my class, two or three years older than the rest of us "normal" kids, most of them big strong wild oxen, not necessarily undisciplined in class but outside of class they were to be feared and avoided. They were feared an avoided by me as well, even though I was on good terms with most of them. Especially with one of them, a kid called Constantin. Big, strong, lowest grades in class. We had nothing in common actually, we did not play together, we did not meet outside of school, he was quiet, keeping to himself most of the time, and I had the impression that he was really trying to catch up with the others however before too long he became the teachers' favorite scapegoat. And especially so when after a few months his sister (older than him) joined the class as well and started making his life miserable. I could not stand her, big mouthed, treacherous, nasty. A dislike that changed to hate on this one occasion when their father came to school and she told him something nasty about her brother, and the father slapped him in view of all. I felt like dying in shame for him. And I decided that my best revenge would be to try to help him. I don't remember exactly how it began. We started staying after school together, trying to prepare the homework, trying to understand the material. I discovered an intelligent head, eager to learn and succeed, willing to get off the end of the queue, industrious, and above all and surprisingly so for such a giant... a sensitive boy. We could not become friends, the big age difference, the fact that I was Jewish, the fact that I was always first in class and he mostly last, even in misery there are classes and my class of misery was one layer higher than his... but some kind of undefined affinity developed there against all expectations and surprising everybody around. Even the teachers decided to start giving him a chance, after all if the best pupil in class (well, sometimes second to Tereza) gave him this kind of attention, they had to respect it. Teachers were no less respectful of good pupils than colleagues were.

    In native Romanian some name "diminutives" are considered nice, other are considered nasty, derogatory, not allowed. Depending on circumstance of usage, of course. A nice one for him would have been Costica. A derogatory diminutive of Constantin was Costache. Meaning ignorant, low class, rough. I was the only one in the school allowed to call him Costache. He proposed it himself, unexpectedly. And I considered it a great privilege, a favor he was allowing me in his own cumbersome way, a mental hand offered for a handshake breaking any artificial barriers. Some kind of a link was developing here, not a friendship but a powerful link leading... nowhere, yet always present.

    One of the classes I loved most was "crafts", and this year we were into wood, each pupil having to build a chair's leg. Never knew how difficult it was to build a chair' wooden leg till I had to do it myself. This type of schooling took part in another, far away school where they had a workshop, so one day each week we had to go there. On foot of course, busses were not yet "invented" in my home town at that time.

    It was winter, dark, high snow, cold. I left home around six in the morning, wearing a thick coat, a furry hat, high shoes, and went on the way to pick up a friend. We were going together, it felt less lonely that early in the day with hardly one lamp post per street and nothing moving except us kids hurrying to school. The fresh snow crunched underneath our feet, the sparkling magic mixed up with the fear of the wolves ululating far in the distance. Wolves were frightening, yet there was some kind of magic to this sound, somehow making us feel more important as we faced all these terrible dangers just to get to school, hoping the teachers would appreciate the danger and the sacrifice. We got there quite early. It was freezing cold and the few kids already there were building a snow man just to warm up. Some more kids arrived. Snow balls started flying and it soon developed in a merry free for all. I wasn't really in the mood for a snow fight, I was frozen and waited for the school to open and hoping it was warmer inside than outside. Which was not always the case, of course.

    I did not see it coming. One of those "repeaters", about two years older than me, not the biggest guy but known for his wild ways, sneaked behind me and suddenly I felt a bulk of snow being shoved deep down inside my shirt. I shuddered, I felt like dying, frozen, and most of all humiliated for allowing myself be caught in such "indecent" posture. I started crying, trying ineffectively to pull the snow out from my back, anger and frustration blinding my thought and logic. I was never supposed to interfere with them, to fight with them, they were too strong and dangerous. I saw him laughing his head off in front of me, I lost my head. I bent down, scooped a big chunk of frozen ice in both hands, and as he watched me incredulously getting close to him, I hit him fully in the face. Then I ran away.

    I knew I was lost. I was going to get beaten like never before in my life, I was scarred to death yet a certain pride rode my chest as I kept running away knowing that he had no chance to get me that day. But following day at school, I knew what awaited me. He gave up his chase long before I stopped running. Then I returned to the workshop following some ways known only to me and waited for everybody else to get into class before I followed in. I felt his eyes fixed on me with a thirst of revenge that would not be satisfied until he gets me down and steps several times on my frozen and bloodied figure.

    Next day at school I arrived just in time to get in the class before the bell ring. It was a short respite. The first class hour was getting to its end, the bell was about to ring and my moment of truth was awaiting me in the courtyard. This time there was no running away. I was trapped and better it was over fast. The bell rang. I went out.

    I looked cautiously around before leaving the safety of the school's corridors, the courtyard, the playing grounds, he was nowhere to be seen. I stepped outside, moving towards the hand-ball field, lots of kids around there, some with sledges, some sliding on patches of ice, my big "enemy" was nowhere to be seen. I started feeling much better, actually within seconds I forgot all my fears and rushed over to the big patch of ice where everybody was sliding either on their feet or on their butt to sounds of shrieks and laughter. And I didn't sense anything happening till it was too late to do anything about it.

    Suddenly I was isolated. A bunch of about ten, twelve kids , all from the one grade lower, created a wide circle around me and now they were closing in slowly, faces smiling with determination and drive, looking at each other for gathering courage while approaching my "menacing" shape yet knowing that I stood no chance. They were all thickly clothed, hands loaded with ice balls, and steadily advancing. I did not see "him" around, he was probably wary of the school's reaction so he just organized the "party" for me and now was probably regarding it from somewhere remote and enjoying it. I could not run away neither, or lose my face forever in the face of all those looking at whatever was about to happen. The circle advanced, closing ranks steadily and stopped only when they were about two yards away from me, all around, and watching me intently ready to crush me in.

    I chose a first victim, one that looked a bit unsure of himself, jumped over him and threw him to the ground surprised to hear his wailing sounds, then jumped away to the middle again as he got up and returned to his place. I jumped a second one, same as the first. The power of the pack was clearly visible, unbreakable. It was clear they were hesitating but not for long. The rush was about to happen, it was a matter of seconds before the wolves would go for the kill and tear me to pieces, I saw it growing on their faces and hands... hey, what was that? One, two, three flew up in the air like popping balloons, another two got their faces slapped with a huge paw leaving bloody noses in its trail, the others didn't wait but just scattered away in random directions leaving me suddenly alone, frightened and panting in the middle of a non existing circle. I looked at him, he did not smile, he did not gloat, did not say anything, there was that look in his eyes, that look that didn't say anything to anyone, to anyone except me. I didn't thank him, didn't have to. There was a bond there, it acted, a bond so strong that nothing ordinary could break for as long as we stayed in each other's vicinity. Costache, my special, my sensitive, my unique friend. I did not thank him, I was thankful.

    *

    I returned to this place, my old town and old school, twenty years later. I wanted to find him, I asked about him. I found out he committed suicide a few years after the last time I've seen him. I knew he was a sensible soul, I did not know just how much so he was, and probably I would not have appreciated or understood it as a child. But I miss him. I miss you my special friend Costache, this is one special wound in my heart that will never heal.

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Thirteen

    Getting ready to leave. The permission to leave the communist paradise given, all we had to do was leave everything behind and get the hell out of there. I was just past my Bar Mitzvah ceremony, celebrated in the old, small synagogue that shared a common wall with us. I was to leave it too, its smells of old books, of candles, the creaking stairs I was running up and down to my mother’s place, the feel and sound of true, real holiness I knew I would never encounter their kind in my life again, ever, the heart breaking Kol Nidrei sang by the hozen Strul Shapira, Umi’s father.

    I did my tour of good-bye duty. Grădina Publică, the city’s large, beautiful park. With its artificial lake and its boats and gigantic fountain - “...barca numărul şase la mal!...” I still remember the boats’ owner calling back an overdue client. Its artificial hills and tall pine trees and wooden bridges, the stage to so many of our “pac!” and “de-a vaţi ascunselea!” games. Its summer restaurant where I was joining my parents for a grilled steak or a few mititei washed down by a pint of beer, o halbă de bere, a habit I was allowed to start already at the soft age of seven. No, I didn’t grow into a drunkard, I did grow though into an incorrigible nostalgiac.

    Teatrul Eminescu, where I was almost daily either stealing my way in or buying my way in, and which beat into me so much culture in the form of opera, cinema, theater, vaudeville, that I am soaking wet with it to this day. Monumentul Eroilor, the impressive Romanian Wars Heroes monument in the city center. The exquisitely beautiful Casa Pionierilor, where I did my first guided, yet gauche incursions into the writing world.

    My school. My last classroom, with its wooden floor and wooden walls and the myriad holes perforated in it by our inter-student wars and pen-nib missiles. The honors-panel where my picture was still playing star at the top of a pyramid of other pupil’s pictures. The king-of-the-hill beam. The school’s glorious handball field, which saw so much pride and pain in inter-school championships. The same one where a “jews and gypsies” children team won a dramatic soccer game against a “locals” children team by the score of 2 goals to 1. A proud, uncontestable win, since the referee was the big brother of one of “them”. Oh, the glory of that remarkable, timeless event, as I tried to recollect it with closed eyes.

    A neighborhood against neighborhood soccer game, benign, routine. Yet, what was supposed to be so benign and routine, changed dramatically its essence when one of our neighborhood’s players defected to “them” and “their” refusal to let a gypsy boy play in their ranks. An act which suddenly turned the anodyne event, into a show carrying a hugely different connotation, a completely different context, turning the irrelevant encounter into a microscopic ethnical battle which even us, kids, suddenly understood. So maybe the communist theory of equality to all is after all, practically, neither applicable nor acceptable to all? And it was Titi, the gypsy whom we let play with "us", who scored the winning goal. Our own Jesse Owens, only we didn’t know about Jesse Owens back then and there.

    I continued to the 7 Noiembrie cinema. Not longer than a couple months back I starred there as Sasha in the Cravata Roşie stage play for children, and fell in love, for the whole length of a kiss on the cheek, with the young actress who directed us. I remembered only too well the other players, let’s see, who were they? Umi, my best and ever best friend. Dewy, the one with the carriage horses in the courtyard and the itching hay in the attic and at whose radio I followed Gagarin’s flight in space. Liviu, the girls lover, even newer than me at school. Little Silvi, the bubbling ball of energy. Sorin, in or around whose courtyard lay some of the world’s seven wonders – green apples, a flooded cellar, some big dogs, linden trees, roofs, battling neighborhood kids, a wooden swing. Larisa, soft, gentle Larisa. And Tereza, oh, Tereza, the most beautiful girl ever, anytime, anywhere. Miss you, Tereza.

    I started pulling back home, next day we had to depart. I had a long and tearful parting session with my lifelong friend, the nameless stuffed grey bear, Ursuleţul, dressed in his eternal blues, with his eternally sad eyes, now sadder than ever. The star of so many puppet shows that I set-up for the neighborhood’s children, that I lost count of. An even longer and more tearful parting from my lately deceased bitch, Tizza, oh, the sweet-bitter memories. I visited the mound of ground where she was buried, in the back of the house by the vegetables garden. Next to the small tomatoes and their heavenly red, and the young onions whose leaves served us to blow soap bubbles, and the occasional cucumbers and the even rarer watermelons which never reached ripe maturity. Under the apricot tree’s branches reaching over from the neighbor, Radu’s garden. Good bye, my Tizza.

    It was getting evening.

    I sat with her, her – doesn’t matter who, on the broken garden bench, in my courtyard, next to Tanti Rica’s door. She was one year younger than me, twelve. We sat, there, hugging. Puppy love, my first, her first, I hated girls. She allowed my hand to wander under her skirt. We kissed, mouth to mouth, and the only recollection I have of it is the sweetness, the innocence of a kiss which promised to bind us forever. She said she would come to the train station next day, before we traveled.

    She was there, with her parents, we did not hug again, too embarrassed to do so. I got on the train with my parents and I got drunk with the smell of charcoal and smoke, I loved it when the train started pulling away from the station, my mother crying, the girl blowing a kiss my way. We were gone.

    I knew I was leaving there, behind me, more than half of my life. So many years have passed since, and I discover again and again, with the passing of each one of them, the absolute maturity of that childish thought. Yes, I left there more than half of my life, ever, buried in the power of moments to never be re-lived again, ever.

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Cuvintele...

lui maică-mea

    Cuvintele-mi lipsesc, oi fi uitat
    Comorile vorbite ce-am păstrat,
    Ca amintirea-ţi, în a timpurilor veşnicie
    S-o plîng, s-o rog, s-o beau, s-o cînt eu ani o mie.

    Cuvintele-mi lipsesc, oi fi pierdut
    Misterul cîntului de vrajă ce-am avut,
    Ca dorul meu, în fin fir de mătase să îl ţes,
    Şiraguri lungi de lacrimi pe el tot să îndes.

    Cuvintele-mi lipsesc, m-oi fi eu stins,
    Şi mreaja neagurilor vremii m-ar fi prins,
    Şi-n gînduri tulburi, tot caut al tău farmec să găsesc,
    Şi vocea ta s-aud, şi ochii-ţi să-i privesc.

    Şi mîna dă-mi, şi sterge-mi lacrima,
    Numele-mi zii, să dorm în poala ta.

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Vijelie...

lui maică-mea

    Vijelie şi furtună,
    Fulgeră prin nori şi tună,
    Eu la sobă mă chitesc,
    Mîinile mi le-ncălzesc,
    Cu căţelul la picior
    Ronţăind un păpuşor,
    Bînd cu ochii mari adese
    Basme şi poveşti alese
    ...Fraţii Liu şi Moş Crăciun,
    Nuieluşa de Alun,
    Făt Frumos ş-a sa Ileana,
    Prea frumoasa Cosînzeana,
    Zmei şi crai şi mari balauri,
    Albi Harapi şi negrii mauri,
    Aprigi armăsari în stele,
    Babe Cloanţe, urse rele,
    Sfarmă Piatră-ţi stă in cale,
    Paloşe de trei ocale,
    Nestemate, buzdugane,
    Strîmbă Lemne năzdrăvane,
    Împăraţi cu fii ca brazi,
    De-ar trăi mai sunt şi azi...
    Şi deodată-n vis mă scaldă
    Un miros de pîine caldă,
    Buzna la cuptor că dau
    Şi-mi frig mîinile şi iau,
    Şi plîngînd şi tot mîncînd,
    Mama cu sărutu-i blînd
    Degetele-mi mîngăie,
    Vocea-mi să nu tînguie,
    O dulceaţă-mi dăruie,
    Căţeluşa mîrîie,
    Şi o iau sub plapumă,
    Mama mă tot leagănă,
    Ş-ai mei şapte anişori
    Sînt ca fulgii de uşori.

    Zarzări verzi, cireşe negre,
    Fur prin curţi cînd nu se vede,
    Şi mă plimb pe-acoperişuri,
    Şi-mi rup hainele-n tufişuri,
    Nu-i copac să nu mă caţăr,
    Cad în cap şi tot ies teafăr,
    Ş-o cafteală-mi trage mama
    Ca mai bine să dau seama,
    Mai arunc cu pietre-n geamuri,
    Sparg vreo trei sau patru capuri,
    Şi îmi sparg şi capul meu,
    Vai de mine ş-aoleu,
    Mama vine, rana-mi spală,
    Nu mă las' să merg la şcoală,
    Şi la inima-i mă ţine,
    Mai c-adorm aşa mi-e bine,
    Şi un cîntec îmi îngînă
    Tot ţinîndu-mă de mînă,
    Şi visez tîrziu în noapte
    Legănat de-a sale şoapte
    ...De Ulise, Penelopa,
    Telemac şi Şchiopu Popa,
    De isprăvi de-a lui Păcală,
    Furnicel şi prost Tîndală,
    Andersen şi Fraţii Grimm,
    Regi la Ştefan ce se-nchin,
    Şi Arici şi Pogonici,
    Luminiţa, Trei Pitici,
    Timur şi Băieţii Lui...
    Cînd pe pat ca să mă sui,
    Vuiet mare, zdrăngîneală,
    Căldărarii bat în oală,
    C-aşa trec ei prin oraşe
    Cu cazane uriaşe,
    Tot oraşu-n fierbîntare,
    Om şi mic şi om şi mare,
    Sute kile prune negre,
    Apa în cazane fierbe
    Zi şi noapte-amestecînd,
    Şi copii în jur jucînd,
    Şi-n borcane mari că pun
    Prea fantasticul magiun,
    Lingura adînc o-mping
    Mă delect şi tot o ling,
    Pe părinţi îi strîng şi fug
    Să mă caţîr într-un nuc,
    Şi să strig în gura mare
    Că-s eu cel mai şi mai tare,
    Şi-s ca pana de uşori
    Ai mei opt plus anişori.

    Nota zece peste tot,
    La purtare nota opt,
    Mama-i mîndră cu băiatu
    Chiar dacă-şi face de capu,
    C-am o roşie cravată,
    Dar cu mine-i ş-o armată
    De murdari, neisprăviţi,
    Şi-narmaţi pînă în dinţi,
    Săbii lungi de scîndură,
    Suliţe din mătură,
    Traiste mari ce pietre-ascund
    Şi săgeţi cu vîrf de plumb,
    Şi plecăm c-un Ura! noi
    Cu-altă stradă la război,
    Ne pocnim şi ne-njurăm,
    Ne trîntim şi ne scuipăm,
    Rupem haine, zmulgem nasturi,
    Curge sîngele din nasuri,
    Aruncăm cu bălegar,
    Şi cu pietre din trotoar,
    Şi urlăm, zbierăm, răcnim,
    Şi duşmanul izgonim
    Cel puţin vre-o şapte strade,
    Cînd deodată noaptea cade,
    Înapoi mucoasa ceată,
    Zdrenţuroasă, zgîriată,
    De victorie voioasă
    Cîntă, urlă glorioasă,
    Ş-un vecin se mai trezeşte
    Şi la ceafă ne pocneşte,
    Dar c-o cîrpă-n vîrf de băţ,
    Ce-am muncit ca să agîţ
    (Că-i un steag ce flutură)
    Pîn' ş-asta ne bucură,
    Ş-uite iată c-am sosit,
    Strada noastră am venit,
    Cînd încep şi mamele
    Să-şi cheme odraslele,
    Mai la masă, mai la baie,
    Mai să iee o bătaie,
    Şi mă-ntorc şi eu prin pod,
    Plin de praf şi plin de glod,
    Şi m-aşed pe-un scăunel,
    Mama-mi dă un ceaunel
    C-o smîntînă să prelingă
    Pe-o măligă aburindă,
    Că deseară, zarvă tare,
    Mergem toţi la teatrul mare
    ...Să vedem vre-un Molier,
    Sau vre-un clasic film de ieri,
    Sau un Verdi, sau Goldoni,
    Sau un circ batăte-ar clovnii,
    Sau pe Stroe, sau Crişan,
    Un fantastic Tomazian,
    Sau un teatru de păpuşi,
    Sau vre-o trei filme de ruşi,
    Sau aprindem difuzorul
    La Satira şi Humorul...
    După ce se-ntunecă
    La Grădina Publică,
    Pe cărbune un grătar,
    Beau ş-un şpriţ juma pahar,
    Şi trei halbe reci de biere,
    Şi înot într-o plăcere,
    Şi ţin mîna mamă, tată,
    Şi-mi închip că viaţa toată
    Fericire-i şi plăceri,
    Mîine este iar un ieri,
    Şi-s ca frunza de uşori
    Ai mei nouă anişori.

    Toamna vine, frunza cade,
    Vîntul suflă, soba arde,
    Întunericul se-ntinde,
    Mama lumînări aprinde,
    Ochi închişi, capul plecat,
    Eu privesc ca fermecat
    Cum se roagă, şi e gata,
    A Ghit Şobăs zice tata,
    A Ghit Şobăs zic şi eu
    Şi zîmbeşte Dumnezeu,
    Şi zîmbeşte ea la mine,
    Uite, sărbătoarea vine,
    Măr în vîrf de bîţ cu steag,
    Merg la Şil, în mine trag
    Un miros de cărţi vechite,
    Putred lemn, flori aurite,
    Lumînări ce palid ard,
    Zeci de oameni după gard,
    Ş-un om sfînt cu ochi închişi
    Cîntă, doare, un Kadiş,
    Şi ne-mbrăţişăm cu toţii,
    Şi cu viii şi cu morţii,
    Şi oleacă mai apoi
    Iac' zăpada-i peste noi,
    Şi cu sănii, cu gheţuşuri,
    Moş Gerilă, lunecuşuri,
    Albe dalbe, flori de gheaţă,
    Bulgări de zăpadă-n faţă,
    Lupii urlă-n noaptea albă,
    Luna-n farmec fin ne scaldă,
    Ş-a lui omul de zăpadă
    Nasul mai că o să cadă,
    Poi că mergem cu uratu,
    Ba un leu ne dă, ba patru,
    Pîn' ce-odată... rîndunele,
    Ghiocei şi viorele,
    Primăverei sărbători,
    Mărţişoare, mărţişori,
    Mamei eu cadou îi cumpăr,
    Nu cumva că mă astîmpăr,
    Hoinăresc zile la rînd,
    Pe bunicii vizitînd,
    Doi, trei lei la ei cerşind,
    Mînc dulceaţă mulţumind,
    Merg la tata-n magazin
    Cuie-n buzunaru-mi plin,
    Un Bălan mai că mă muşcă,
    Fuga dau apoi la poştă,
    Cumpăr timbre o grămadă,
    Le-aranjez, iar în ogradă
    Construiesc o cazemată,
    Fur un măr şi toţi mă cată,
    Întocmesc coduri secrete
    Pentru lupta contra fete,
    Zdrîngănesc cu-acordeonul
    Şi mereu îmi fuge tonul,
    Iaca-i Paşte - pască-uscată
    Vor să guste clasa toată,
    Ş-apoi Paştele lor vine,
    Bat în uşă la vecine,
    Ouă colorate s-am
    Să ciocnesc cu a lor neam,
    Ş-a trecut Paştele mare,
    Iaca-i iară sărbătoare,
    Unu Mai şi steaguri mii,
    Pe copaci, în prăvălii,
    Cu părinţii merg pe stradă,
    Ne uităm la o paradă,
    Mii de oameni, haine noi,
    Cîntece şi tărăboi,
    Bucurie vie, mare,
    Cum să ştiu că zile-amare
    Într-o mică săptămînă
    Cînd mama mă ia de mînă
    Şi la şcoală la serbare
    Un buchet de flori ea are,
    C-apoi doară ştie ea
    Că fecioru-i va lua
    Diplomă d-evidenţiare -
    Păi e cel mai bun şi tare...
    Dar deodată cade tristă,
    Au citit întreaga listă,
    Al meu nume-acolo nu-i
    ...'s duşmanul poporului?...
    Nu durează, se ridică,
    Cum e ea aşa mitică,
    Şi durerea-i dă putere,
    Mînioasă la vedere
    La tribună se repede,
    Nu e om că nu o vede,
    Florile în faţa lor
    Le aruncă pe covor
    Şi se-ntoarce mîndră, dreaptă,
    Mîna-mi ia, mergem la poartă,
    Cu durere-n suflet grea
    Eu, copil, şi mama mea,
    Şi-m devin cam greuşori,
    Ai mei zece anişori.

    Vremea vine, vremea trece,
    Vreme caldă, vreme rece,
    La mîncare mai cam greu,
    Şi încep să simt şi eu...
    Strada doarme, miezul nopţii,
    Ne sculăm încet cu toţii,
    Şi căţelul vrea se scoale,
    Mama nicovala-n poale
    Ia, ciocanu-n mîna cealtă,
    Şi loveşte într-o daltă,
    Fierele să le îndoaie,
    Tata fierele le taie,
    Furişînd priviri temute
    Înspre uşă... nu se-aude?...
    Balamale meşterind,
    Lăzi de fier tot făurind,
    Şi şuruburi, catarame,
    Cîrîi maţele de foame,
    Dar aşa poate că mîine
    Vom putea găsi vr-o pîine,
    Iacă-i mîine, iacă-i soare,
    Iaca o privighetoare,
    Înc-o zi ca şi cealaltă
    Dară eu las totul baltă,
    Uit de noapte, de-oboseală,
    Fug grăbit la noua şcoală,
    Vreau să-mi fie mama mîndră,
    Şi nu-mi pasă de osîndă,
    Iar mă bat, mă chinuiesc,
    Vreau la totul să sporesc,
    Şi fruntaş ajung la toate
    Dacă da sau nu se poate,
    Ca invidia - atît,
    Să le stea la toţi în gît,
    Pînă ce-ncotro nu au
    Diplomele mi le dau,
    La tabloul de onoare
    Poza mea nici să coboare,
    Şi încep să uit oleacă
    Cea durere ce mă-neacă,
    Şi încep stîngaci şi eu
    De fetiţe să mă ieu,
    Ici şi colo o privire,
    Ici şi colo o simţire,
    Nu că ţine, că-mi pierd pila
    Cînd la meci merg - “Hai Textila”,
    Mamă, tată, eu şi cîine
    Mergem azi, mergem şi mîine,
    Haide Bolea, hai Doboi,
    Că plecăm la Dorohoi,
    Uite carnavalul vine,
    Ne mascăm care mai bine,
    Uite facem felinare
    Din dovleci cu lumînare,
    Uite-n cor că noi cîntăm,
    Şi o piesă ascultăm,
    Uite că şi din asprime
    Am ieşit ceva mai bine,
    Şi mîncare iacă este,
    Şi mai vine-o bună veste,
    Şi încep a merge-n baluri,
    Şi dansează valuri valuri,
    Şi oleacă mîngiere
    Are-a mamei grea durere,
    Ş-a mei unşpe anişori
    Sînt aşa ş-aşa de-uşori.

    Treişpe ani. Ca-ntr-o poveste,
    Cea mai fost că nu mai este,
    Inima-mi pe veci rănită
    Căţeluşa mea iubită
    Azi sa stins. O lacrimă
    Vărs eu pe sub plapumă,
    Ş-anul ăsta trec şi eu
    C-aşa zis-a Dumnezeu
    Din copil mă fac bărbat,
    Soarta anii mi ia dat
    Ca copilăria-mi dulce -
    Inocenţă ce aduce -
    Azi s-o pierd. Ş-un prim sărut
    De fetiţă eu să gust,
    Şi sa dus şi ea. Şi iată
    Încă pierd eu deodată
    Toate-a mele dulci meleaguri,
    Casă, amintiri şi fleacuri,
    Că azi plec. La revedere,
    Mă mănîncă o durere,
    Rădăcinile-mi le tai,
    Flori de tei şi simplu trai,
    Scumpi prieteni, dragi vecini,
    Liliac şi flori de crin,
    Leagănul în pod uitat,
    Ursuleţul speriat,
    Geamul spart în capul uşei,
    Şi mormîntul căţeluşei,
    Ameţit de patimă
    Mă înec în lacrimă,
    Ş-ochii mamei umezi sînt,
    Tata e pierdut în gînd,
    Şi o ultimă privire,
    Înc-o clipă de-amintire,
    Ş-am plecat. O ţară nouă,
    Bună, dar în inimi plouă,
    Ş-ai mei treişpe ani purtaţi
    Sînt cu lacrimi încărcaţi.

    Ţară nouă, viaţă grea,
    Măi cum dorul ne strivea,
    Dar cum două mîini avem,
    Fără vaiet, fără gem,
    Mînecile răsuflate
    Şi cu fălcile-ncleştate
    Jugul drept pe gît luăm
    Şi cu cinste îl purtăm,
    Luptă grea, încăierare,
    Mai nimic să ne doboare,
    Tata-n smoală se opară,
    Mama saci în spate cară,
    Eu vîr mîna pîn' la coţi
    În căcat de păsări morţi,
    Ce-i odihna?, e de alţii,
    Înainte, cară sacii,
    Ore lungi făr' de mîncare,
    Ochii roşi şi mîini murdare,
    Mamă, tată, voi şi eu
    Fără om şi Dumnezeu
    Uite-ncet, tiptil, aşa,
    Pe spinarea nostura,
    Casă caldă construim,
    Viaţă-ncepem să trăim,
    Şi un pic de bucurie
    În al nostru sîn învie,
    Cinşpe, şaişpe, ani de spor
    De speranţă, şi de dor.

    Vremea trece, vremea zboară,
    Viaţa ca o surioară
    Ne zîmbeşte iar, chiar rîde,
    Eu prin ani păşesc, şi făr' de
    A-mi da seama - iacă trec
    Mari schimbări, şi nu mă plec,
    Mari şi grele, bune, rele,
    Înainte-mping prin ele,
    Fete multe-am cunoscut,
    Numai una mi-a plăcut,
    Scumpă, bună şi frumoasă
    Mi-am luat-o de mireasă,
    Doi flăcăi mi-a dăruit,
    Bună casă mi-a 'ngrijit,
    Trecem groaznice războaie
    Făr' ca inima-mi se moaie,
    Tot împing, munca-mi cinstită
    Mă aduce-n reuşită,
    Cresc în nume, cresc în faimă,
    De nimica nu-mi e spaimă,
    Fericită-i mîndra fată
    Ce-i cu mine viaţa toată,
    Fericiţi ai mei copiii
    Cresc sub umbra fericirii,
    Fericiţi părinţii mei
    Mîndri ce fecior au ei,
    Fericită-a mea mămică
    Respectată şi voinică,
    La o muncă ce iubeşte
    Sufletul îşi dăruieşte,
    O plăcere are, vie,
    Ca să-mi povesteacscă mie
    Cît de fericită este -
    Cu o noră ca-n poveste,
    Cu-n bărbat ce o admiră
    Ce-o iubeşte cum respiră,
    Cu nepoţi ca brazii falnici,
    Iubitori, şi buni, şi harnici,
    Cu feciorul ei aparte
    Ce iubeşte, şi-i departe,
    Şi mai trec vre-o trei decenii,
    Şi s-aşează bruma vremii
    Peste noi, dar numărînd
    Bucuriile la rînd.

    Patruşopt, oh, an de-urgie
    Şi de chinuri vii o mie,
    Că cuţitu-n rană vie
    Cel atotputernic ştie
    Să îmi scormonească. Iacă,
    Las' să stăm de vorbă-oleacă
    Că am eu ceva cuvinte
    Să îţi zic prea sfînt părinte,
    Nu să-njur, că nu-i de mine
    Chiar dacă să urlu-mi vine,
    Doar să-ţi pun ceva-ntrebare,
    Păi că eşti aşa de mare,
    Şi se zice că eşti drept,
    Şi eşti darnic, şi-nţelept,
    Păi sînt mic, sînt o furnică
    Sînt o frunză, o nimică,
    Nici pretenţii n-am avut,
    Nici atenţii n-am cerut
    Niciodată de la tine -
    Ce te uiţi atît la mine,
    Nu-s Iov, pic de credinţă
    Ce-am avut - în suferinţă
    Vrei să stingi? Zdrobeşte capu-mi
    Sfarmă inima din pieptu-mi,
    Dar cumplitele-ţi cadouri
    Ţinele la tine-n nouri,
    Ce-ai cu biata asta fată,
    Bună, dragă şi curată,
    Care traiu-mi împărţeşte
    Si nimic alta-şi doreşte,
    Sfînte lumînări aprinde,
    Braţele la tine-ntinde
    Tot ce vrea - viaţă cinstită,
    Păi de ce e pedepsită,
    Să-mi pierd munca, să-mi pierd sporul,
    Ea să-şi piardă viitorul,
    Grija inima să-i roadă,
    Şi tot cade, şi tot roagă,
    Sufletul îi oboseşte
    Cînd în mîine ea priveşte,
    Se topeşte-n ea femeia
    Şi se stinge-n ea scînteia,
    Ce-ai cu dînsa Doamne, lasă
    S-aibe-un pic de voie-n casă,
    De copii ceva plăcere,
    Păi mai mult ea nici nu cere,
    Pentru ea la tine eu
    Bat în uşa-ţi Dumnezeu,
    Vrei să m-osîndeşti, şi muncă
    Ce-am iubit afar' m-aruncă,
    Bine, strînge-mi capu-n cleşte,
    Dar familia-mi scuteşte...

    Patruşopt, oh, an cumplit,
    Scumpa-mi mamă-ai pedepsit,
    Eşti tu sigur? Nu-i greşeală,
    Nu-i vre-o pată de cerneală
    Ce-a căzut în pragul porţii
    Peste lista dată morţii,
    Şi rînjeste moartea-n sine
    Ca să-şi bată joc de tine,
    Îngeru-ţi pe ăst pămînt
    Să îl vîre în mormînt,
    Doamne, cum de n-ai văzut
    Doamne, cum de n-ai putut
    Să opreşti astă urgie,
    Tu, ce vezi în ani o mie
    N-ai văzut 'nainte-un pas
    Moartea nici ţi-a dat răgaz
    Coasa să-i opreşti în ceruri,
    Cum de nu răcneşti şi tremuri,
    Peste-a negrii moarte-i drum
    Cum nu te abaţi? şi cum
    Tatălui meu urlete
    Nu le schimbi în tunete?
    Unde-ţi sunt minunile
    Din poveşti străbunele,
    Unde-i forţa ta cumplită
    De legende povestită,
    Şi teribila-ţi putere
    La nevoi şi la durere,
    Pune mîna-ţi grea pe soarte
    Dă-napoi ceasul de moarte,
    Pune suflul, cum e drept,
    În a mamei mele piept,
    Şi în dreaptă judecată
    Trage moartea blestemată,
    Că tot rîde moartea-n sine
    Tot îşi bate-n joc de tine
    C-al tău înger pe pămînt
    Putrezeşte în mormînt.

    Dragă, scumpă, sfîntă mamă,
    Aste rînduri scriu cu teamă
    Că atunci cînd voi a trece
    Din a vieţii lume rece
    În a morţii caldă lume
    Nu voi da de-a tale urme,
    Mamă, dă-mi un semn, alintă-mi
    Fruntea caldă, 'n şoaptă cîntă-mi
    Cîntece de altă dată -
    Moarte sunt cu tine-odată?
    Mamă, mamă iubitoare,
    Caldă şi dăruitoare,
    Înţeleaptă cu cuvîntul,
    Buni ţi-s inima şi gîndul,
    Mîini de aur, ochii blînzi,
    Plini de viaţă... mamă - plîngi?
    Plîng eu, plîngem toţii noi,
    Mamă, chiar nu vii-napoi?
    Unde eşti, mamă, răspunde,
    Zîmbetul tău nu-l ascunde,
    Mamă, sîngele îmi fierbe,
    Ochiu-n lacrimă se pierde,
    Strig în piept, urlu la ceru-mi
    Şi mă cert cu Dumnezeu-mi,
    Mamă, uite mîna mea,
    Vino mamă, vin' mă ia.

    Dar e linişte. Şi-i rece
    Piatra de mormînt pe vece,
    Şi mă laşi să mor de dor
    În loc ca de dor să mor.

    Patruşopt, oh, an al morţii,
    Tu teribil sol al sorţii
    În famili-ai lovit
    Ş-apoi mama-mi ai răpit,
    Şi acum bietul căţel
    Inocent şi mititel,
    Plin de viaţă, plin de zel,
    Coasa morţii-a dat şi-n el,
    Inima-mi cea frămîntată,
    Inima-mi cea fărîmată,
    Doamne, de-o fărîmătură
    Tot mai vrei să vezi ce-ndură?
    Şi-ţi baţi joc de viii morţi,
    Sufletul prin iad mi-l porţi,
    D-apoi Doamne, vezi mă scuză,
    N-ai avea de călăuză
    Moartea, şi cumva ţi-a dat
    Vin viclean şi te-a 'mbătat,
    Că dacă ridic privirea
    Şi prin lacrimi omenirea
    O privesc, să-mi ierţi ist ton,
    Dară moartea stă pe tron.
    Şi ca plumbul sunt de grei
    Patruşopt de ani ai mei.

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poem Shana Tova...

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poem Libech...

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poem Prahim...

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poem Hikartich...

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poem Avi...

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poem Aharona...

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poem Mi Tzava...

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1943... Bassarabia...

to my father...

    A weary guard, a skinny snapping dog,
    Weak heaving grunts ride hammers' endless pound
    As shapeless stones asleep in muddy ground
    Break pebble thin, to greeting morning fog.

    An old man falls... a muscle clothed bone
    Leaps to his due... a second's down... a third...
    His blood shot eyes denying thankful word
    The youth breaks stone, then stone, then stone, then stone...

    The camp's commander watches drunken eyed
    His strangling hand attacks the bottle's red
    Then vomiting his rage upon the bed
    He bellows till his under's at his side.

    You son of dog, you listen or you're dead,
    This dirty jid shall get my slice of bread.

    *

    to my father, the unsung hero of those he saved in that terrible work camp, taking over the work of every fallen one, until even the camp's commander was so impressed that he ordered his own food to be given to that jid...

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Patricide

to my father...

    The Nazis didn't succeed.

    You ran away,
    not before saving some good souls
    by breaking your back for them
    and taking their share of stone
    and weight of hammer
    and curse mixed with wonder of the camp's commander
    who didn't give a damn about old and sick and child who couldn't keep up
    with the grueling pace -
    "hey, this Jew will make me keep my quota,
    give him my food too!" he commanded.
    They couldn't catch up with you,
    the Russians beat them to the trophy.

    The Securitate didn't succeed.

    You stole honest work
    to make a living for your family,
    working daylight for the party and working candlelight for the loved ones,
    hammering the night away and bending raw metal
    into sellable metal
    fearful of the fearsome knock on the door
    telling that someone told
    and heralding the end of all
    and the beginning of early putrefaction in dark torture cellars.
    They didn't catch up with you,
    you left their doubtful heaven for a better promise.

    Work, grueling work, didn't succeed.

    The burning asphalt which scalded your feet,
    the round the clock job at that stinking, bloody butchery called meat factory,
    the chemistry your naked hands bathed in
    as you cleaned oily motors and rotors and axes
    that was supposed to peel flesh from bone
    and kill you with toxins and seven types of cancer and asphyxiation.
    None of it killed you.

    Not even the ultimate killer,
    the gruesome of them all - my mom's death,
    did not kill you. It almost did. It did not. You were indestructible. Almost.

    Play God! the doctor told me
    allowing me to choose between killing your body
    and killing your spirit. Knowing that I was the only one
    who could kill you. I, the one you loved above all,
    and I chose the coward's selfish way out.
    Let his body live, I said. Kill his spirit. Cut his leg. And I howled
    discovering yet again
    that I am the only God in this world.
    Killing you.

    I walk the path of memories, so short the path between four walls,
    so long.
    The mess, the mess in which you knew every single piece of iron or cloth
    where it is, where it should be, why it is there, why not...
    My mom's clothes, you always refused to get rid of them,
    even fifteen years after,
    and you hid them so no one could find them and throw them away,
    you loved her, didn't you? Your dancing together pictures,
    her single pictures, the things she loved, your grandkids' pictures,
    the VHS tapes that will never be played again with the TV programs she loved.

    Shoes, you were always a hoarder, weren't you? Shoes, suitcases,
    rusty cutlery, food leftovers in the fridge, some fresh,
    the full freezer packed with bread and meat as if you planned to live forever.
    Maybe you did. Until I decided else wise.
    Garlic, the art of your pickles will die with you. Pain killers, so many.
    Blood drops, a few, you were too stiff to bend down and clean.
    A brand new microwave oven, a brand new telephone, brand new cable TV.
    A basket with candles and water and plastic flowers,
    you planned on visiting mom's grave, no? to clean it and refresh the flowers
    and light candles to her soul.
    No, I didn't love her as much as you did,
    such love doesn't exist as you did. And I know you will not meet in heaven
    because there is no heaven up there.
    Yes, there is hell down here.

    I wish I had the courage to take a gun and shoot you dead.
    That would have been the right thing to do. And then bury you dead.
    Instead, I decided to bury you alive.
    And I don't know, if ever, you will forgive me.

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Meat Merchants

to my father...

    Life, not movies,
    not TV heroes and villains and knowledge reaching the moons of Jupiter,
    just people,
    men - thin, fat, spectacled, bearded, hardly articulated or too much so,
    women - thin, fat, spectacled, bearded... yes, some of them...
    doing a job
    same like a taxi driver, a shopkeeper, an electrician... a job.
    Never saw a compassionate electrician,
    compassioned for what - for a light bulb?

    Look - hardly, touch - hardly, think - hardly,
    next, next, coffee, next, snooze, next, we are gods, next...
    too old to save, cut a piece, it will be sufficient,
    too demented to complain, she moans, so what, morphine costs money,
    an operation bed costs money, decent food costs money, airconditioning costs money,
    people? what people? meat!
    decency? since when does meat need decency?

    Yes, meat merchants,
    sometimes called doctors in medicine.

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Sonhood

to my father...

    you watch, not understanding,
    you ask - where is it, my leg?
    you ask - where is it, my life?

    and I, the one with all the answers, have none,
    and the pain in your eyes cuts me to ribbons
    and the salt gliding between your wrinkles
    drowns me.

    you know.
    you are more lucid than me and all the medical fraternity of this world
    when you answer no when I ask you if you want to eat
    when you answer no when I ask you if you want to drink.
    when I ask you so what do you want
    and you don't have to think an answer and answer to die.
    and I wouldn't be your loving son if I wouldn't answer it
    with Amen.

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Dragă tată,

lui taică-meu

    Ţii minte?

    Nu, nu poţi să ţii minte, fiindcă ai murit.
    Dar ţin eu minte, fiindcă - din nefericire - trăiesc.

    Cînd m-am pierdut, ştiind că voi sînteţi la bal
    şi am venit să adorm pe scară, să vă aştept
    şi tot orasul m-a căutat pînă ce cineva m-a găsit, dormind,
    şi ce fericit ai fost cînd m-a adus la tine înapoi...

    Cînd Haritina a vrut să mă răpească
    şi ce speriat ai fost cînd m-ai găsit la ea
    şi m-ai luat înapoi cu forţa
    şi m-ai dus în braţe tot drumul pînă acasă...

    Cînd scoala ţi-a zis că am spart capul cuiva
    şi tu m-ai crezut că nu am fost eu
    cu toate că toţi mă acuzau si mă ameninţau cu repetenţă
    şi ruşine, şi tot te-ai încăpăţînat să fii de partea mea...

    Ţii minte?

    Nu, nu poţi să ţii minte
    chiar dacă aşi scrie sute de strofe şi mii de amintiri
    din cele mai frumoase pînă în cele mai triste...
    te-ai dus.

    Ai luat aminitirile cu tine
    şi mi-ai lăsat doar hainele tale, cîteva petice de hîrtie scrise,
    bomboanele de cafea care nu îmi plac,
    o placă de marmură încă nescrisă
    care va fi sculptată cu cîteva cuvinte - un nume, o dată,
    lumînările care le-ai pregătit pentru mormîntul mamei
    şi atîtea povestiri pe care nu le voi ştia niciodată.

    Plin de vise, de planuri, vîrsta nu are nimic a face cu spiritul...
    dar corpul te-a trădat,
    ţi-a luat visele, planurile,
    mi-a luat amintirile.

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Your Way

to my father...

    You finally had it your way.
    As long as you wanted to live, nobody could stop you from,
    once you decided to leave, no one could prevent you from,
    not the doctors, not the nurses, not the tubes, the machines,
    all impotent
    when faced with your resolution.

    I know why.
    I don't blame you because I know why,
    I know you were right,
    lucid,
    though few could understand it, if at all.

    Goodbye, tata.
    I don't believe in "there".
    You did, I wish me to be wrong
    and you to meet the one who left you countless years ago.
    Yes, countless.
    One is many,
    more than ten is countless,
    I wish your dream comes true.
    Unfortunately, it can be in death only.

    I will miss you,
    oh, how I will miss you.
    And your world class pickles.
    And the warmth of your hug.
    Goodbye, tata.

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The Last Of Your Odyssey

to my father...

    And you could not,
    unfortunately,
    share in it.

    I packed out the clothes -
    some had to be thrown out,
    some washed, some brand new,
    you planned to live a few hundreds of years, didn't you
    even though I kept finding notes
    with your final wishes and instructions
    in case of... in case that...

    A few brand new pots. Probably cost a fortune.
    Two barely used check books,
    an unpacked microwave oven... microwave?
    you hardly knew to use the new telephone
    with all the buttons and oral instructions and settings
    so what for a microwave except that you wanted, maybe, to feel in,
    mom's clothes... why in hell you kept mom's clothes
    until now, fifteen years after... after?...
    I still find it difficult to identify the after what properly
    probably so did you
    and you kept her clothes
    instead of identifying the after what,
    tens of hand watches, wall clocks...
    The mirror,
    did you put it there to feel less lonely
    sitting at the small kitchen's table and watching yourself
    behind the wall?

    The wardrobe.
    First time it is empty in, what, fifty years?
    The bed.
    First time it is empty in, what, fifty years?
    The house.
    First time it is empty in, what, fifty years?

    I collect the keys, the letters, the pictures,
    I empty the drawers,
    I collect the dust... does it still carry your fingerprints,
    mom's fingerprints?
    I collect mental images,
    these for me, for the after,
    another kind of after what,
    final.

    Someone will tear down the walls,
    someone will tear up the tiles,
    tear away the doors, paint everything in strange colors,
    someone will own it, it,
    the place we once called
    home.

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Our House

to my parents...

    The sand
    flows.

    English, this time, I write it for me
    and no one else.
    I may be talking to you,
    I talk to me, to nobody.

    The last days.
    Your home, soon no one’s home
    not even mine.
    I removed the pictures from the walls
    leaving square marks,
    none to tell who was hanging there in framed fame - your son, your grandsons,
    your one and only marriage picture?

    Boxes, tools, nails,
    dishes - some broken, all washed,
    I wanted to make sure they are all washed and clean
    before someone else takes over
    and throws them away,
    who needed your dishes except me
    knowing that at sometime, in the past, you ate from them,
    we all ate from them, together?
    Not many clothes left,
    yours - mom, long yellowed and gone
    except for the few that you, daddy, refused to let part
    at the cost of your life. You loved her, oh, you loved her.
    I love you, oh, I loved you, both,
    no one left to love. Not even the house.
    Soon gone, no more, no mine, gone.

    The slippers under the bed,
    probably never worn.
    The wash-machine, the last time I touch where you touched.
    Your bed,
    I slept in it, you know that I slept in it
    listening to the creaking old mattress and the creaking old frame
    and watching the lamp on the ceiling as old as the room itself. Never replaced.
    I never wondered why. I don’t wonder why now.
    Too much pain to wonder about anything now.
    I open one last time the empty wardrobe doors,
    what do I look for, I don’t know?
    I open and close several times the water tap - flow, drip, flow, drip...
    lock and unlock the door. Several times.
    Take digital pictures
    of the empty walls, the worn carpet, the furniture left behind,
    the dishes, even the broken ones. The keyhole. The key.

    Video cassettes. Those that you, daddy, were preparing for mom when back from work.
    Audio cassettes. In Yiddish, Romanian, some with the voices of your grandsons.
    The decoration on the wall. Your pride, mom, when your grandchildren gave it to you,
    a present, how many hundreds of years ago?
    Some albums. Photos where daddy tried in vain to find a past,
    not finding a future.
    The key into a stranger’s hand. He paid the money.
    Our house his.
    Not ours.
    Forever.

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Lumea Nu Ştie

lui Umi

    Lumea nu ştie
    că-i mai săracă fără tine.

    Lumea nu ştie
    că ai luat o bucată din soare
    şi o bucată din mine
    şi ai dispărut.
    O vezi acolo poate pe maică-mea?
    Dacă o vezi, zii-i că mi-e dor
    de amîndoi.

    O bucurie de viaţă ce aveai,
    o putere de poveste ce aveai
    s-au stins.
    Veşnicie - o, ce cuvînt urît,
    ce scurtă frumuseţe ai dăruit lumii
    ce ignorantă lumea
    care nu te-a cunoscut.

    Scumpul meu prieten,
    s-a agîţat moartea de tine
    şi nu te-mai lăsat,
    moartea învinge - întotdeauna.
    Moartea nu poate învinge
    amintirea.
    Trăieşti
    pe veci
    în amintire.

    Te-am iubit
    mai mult ca pe un frate.
    Te-am iubit
    ca pe un prieten.

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Tiger...

to my puppy...

    Tiger,
    Mon ami, mon frère,
    Pour toi une prière
    De larmes amères
    Sur ton bout de terre.

    Tiger,
    Les anges te réclament
    Pour q'ta petite âme
    Tout le ciel enflamme
    Avec joie et charme.

    Tiger,
    Prend soin de ma mère,
    Cher maman - amère
    Ma vie éphémère,
    A bientôt, j'espère.

    Tiger,
    Joie et peine font sœurs
    Dans mon triste cœur,
    Un si grand bonheur,
    Une immense douleur.

    Tiger,
    Je garde pour toujours
    Ta gaieté, l'amour
    Dans tes tristes yeux, pour
    Te revoir un jour...

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poem Tiger...

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I wonder

to my puppy...

    I wonder
    if I have any tears left.

    I wonder if I ever cried so much over death, before,
    maybe when my mom died, but I still had you
    and when you died
    I did not have you anymore
    and I could not stop crying.

    That pride,
    that proud stance
    now lying inert in my arms
    that majestic clump of tail
    now hanging lifelessly
    as if you were dead.
    You are dead

    My friend. My brother. My fierce joy of life and companion
    giant in your pint size
    alive to the last moment
    before death
    stole you. Death. You vicious murderer of innocence.

    We buried you with your favorite collar,
    we buried you with your favorite toy with your favorite blanket.

    Your favorite papa lies next to you,
    do you know it?

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Tizza...

to my puppy...

    Doggy, doggy, doggy, dog,
    Gone to lands hind silver fog,
    Gone to meet your brother sweet,
    Lying at my mother's feet,
    In the gardens east of eden
    Which to me are still forbidden,
    Say hello to those I miss,
    Take with you my love and kiss,
    And tell uncle God today
    That for you and them I pray.

    Doggy, doggy, doggy, dog,
    Saw this entry in His log:
    (welcome transcript) Hi there fun
    Hold your yapping minutes one
    Glad to see you coming home
    Bring some life under my dome
    Choose a place, my left, my right...
    Hey... that's MY throne, off... you plight!

    (mumbling) ...Headache... have to clone
    This here dog phenomenon...


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Oh, what power...

to my puppy...

    Oh, what power of life,
    oh, what will to be there

    with your broken legs
    and your fallen teeth
    and your three brain strokes
    and again and again and again you resurrected
    like Phoenix, like Jesus, like... you.

    You should not have lived one year,
    you lived one hundred

    a pest, the most wonderful pest one might have wished for,
    a joy, the only kind one would have wished for.

    I sat next to the cot,
    you lay there, unmoving, cold.
    I sat next to the cot and I cried.
    And I cried.
    And I cried.

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Letting You Go

to my puppy...

    It took me long to sit down and write it,
    This,
    This poem, pain, howl... you name it.
    I played delay games hesitating between names,
    Between Your Beautiful Eyes and Toy and Tribute
    and Murder, Planned and My Friend, Gone and You...
    Finally I had to sit down,
    Choose the title, call back the unending howl, pain, poem,
    and write it.
    The untold untellable story of Toy.
    My dog.
    Gone. Dead. Today. At my murderous hand.

    Oh, the beauty of those deep brown sugar eyes,
    The smirk in that quashed muzzle, the huge paws,
    the knots in that long hair hanging from your ears,
    the knots in my throat right now wishing it was I not you
    lying there cold, rigid, unseeing. Dead.
    The little ribbon I tied from time to time to your forehead,
    You looked like a clown... so beautiful.

    Sure I remember.
    When you arrived like a mad cyclone from the depths of a horror story
    running through the house like a pack of mad wolves
    chewing to death everything that didn’t move
    licking to death everything that did
    peeing and shitting with joyful glory all over the carpets
    and bed sheets and all around the newspapers I laid down for you
    never on them... making mush of me already then
    and I fell in love with you and now you are gone.

    Once in your life, only once, you growled
    and you were so embarrassed and so ashamed at the sound
    that you never did it again. Love, only love, this is all you knew to give
    and you gave and you gave and you gave so much of it.
    Always alongside me, with me,
    in the bed, in the bathroom, in the car, at friends,
    you demanded your place in my life and you got it,
    half of the place and all of my life,
    sneaking with you into shops, cinemas, restaurants
    where you were fast to hide underneath the table
    waiting for me to share with you half of my hamburger, half of my chips,
    my spaghetti, my ice cream, my pizza, the cream and the cakes.
    Always thanking me. With love. Endless love. And tail wags.

    So elegant,
    folding your leash in four symmetrical parts
    picking it up as the symbol of your liberty
    and waiting at the door... OK, let’s go together... you said.

    Time. Heart. Sickness. Still dragging along with me. Everywhere.
    Slowly. Unrelenting. Happily. Slowly. Slower.

    Our last night together.
    Weak, hardly able to pick up your body,
    two weeks your stomach got nothing but a few pills,
    some water. You were still smiling. You were in pain but didn’t tell.
    But I knew. Your murder was planned for the following day
    so I refused to come home, I refused to let you go, but I did.
    You still wagged weakly your tail, unable to get up.
    You licked my hand. You rubbed your head against my knee
    wishing to leave something with me, your smell,
    a few hairs black and white and brown, your flag and mine.
    Did you know already? That you will die?
    That I will die with you after that night to end all nights?

    I watched the needle enter your muscle,
    the plunger pushing the liquid in, half of it, then all of it.
    I couldn’t watch the second shot,
    ran out of the room and hid in a corner
    howling in my mind howling in my mind howling in my mind.
    Respecting you. Letting you go. With dignity.
    Oh, so painful it was letting you go...
    Then he told me with fake sorrow in his voice that it was over. I paid him.
    I took you with me.
    There will be flowers above you, and around you, and in your heart.
    And all the world’s desert in mine.
    I loved you, friend mine. Like a child.
    I have no choice now but to become a believer.
    I must believe that I will meet you again.

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Missing

to my puppy...

    Missing the scratching sound at night
    on the side of my bed,
    Missing the bark
    lately so weak I called you Flipper,
    Missing the patience, sitting by my side as I was eating
    and fixing me with those incredible eyes of yours
    waiting for me to share.
    I always shared, my meat, my Jaffa cake, even my green salad.
    You never refused.
    Until you refused. And it was the end.

    Remember... no, you can’t remember anything anymore,
    I do,
    Do you remember chasing birds
    joyful and carefree till some obstinate goose would stand its ground
    and you would return wailing between my legs,
    Do you remember when you ran so fast that you fell in the lake
    and afterwards we both rolled laughing in the grass till you were dry?
    Do you... oh... sorry, you don’t remember,
    I do,
    Do you... oh... I sound mixed up, don’t I, senility – is it part of sorrow?

    I remember you insisting in being part of every picture I took,
    Your head or your ear or your tail or your paw always in,
    I can prove it, I have all these pictures
    and I cry daily over them.
    I remember you remembering that one turn in the road
    on our way to your preferred restaurant
    where you would stand up and start barking my head off in the car
    willing everybody to know we are coming
    and I would drink the beer and you would eat the salties.
    I remember...

    I could write a book about it.
    Missing... I could write a book about it.
    I remember you.
    Missing you. Missing you. Missing you.

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Still

to my puppy...

    I can still smell you,
    in the room, next to my bed,
    I go around sniffing, trying to inhale inside me leftovers of you,
    I see your medication boxes lying forgotten in the plastic tray,
    The half empty pack of dog food...
    you always got more than you could eat,
    middle of the night I heard you sometimes nibbling,
    I wake up at odd hours tiptoeing around
    afraid to step on you, then I remember that the floor is empty of you,
    You are gone.

    Pictures, hairs, your toys, your blanket...
    Oh, God, the torment to know you lone and frightened
    inside that narrow, cold, dark drawer
    freezing your body into one rigid lump of flesh,
    Your hair still soft, so soft, so soft...

    *

    Today we buried you. It drizzled. Grey skies.
    The wooden box too big for you,
    I put in your red leash – your symbol of liberty,
    a small stuffed bear, a blanket in case you find it cold there.
    They were filling the hole with fresh steaming earth
    and I kept throwing in lumps of it with my hands,
    smearing the dirt into my eyes as I tried to see,
    till it was full. I placed fresh flowers above, a pot,
    human weakness. I did not want to put cut flowers,
    someone told me she does not like flowers cut,
    I remembered. You would have loved her.

    They let me see you one last time before screwing the top on,
    your frozen body one rigid lump of flesh,
    Your tail inert,
    Your hair still soft, so soft, so soft...
    Oh, how I wanted to scream...

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Going to sleep

to my puppy...

    When you went to sleep a last time
              you did not know
              you were going to sleep for a last time.

    When you went for a walk for a last time
              you did not know
              it was before going to sleep for a last time
              without you knowing
              you were going to sleep for a last time.

    You did not whine
              when the first needle went in.
    You did not whine
              when the second needle went in.
    When you looked at me
              with those big big big beautiful beautiful beautiful eyes
              you did not know
              you were going to sleep for a last time.

    Your tail lifted once
              fell once
              your big big big beautiful beautiful beautiful eyes
              closed for a last time
              and I knew
              I was seeing your big big big beautiful beautiful beautiful eyes
              for a last time.

    And I died. Forever.

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3 x T

to my puppies...

    I visited you today,
    my three T’s, ranged side by side under the tree
    like an eternal blessing,
    my curse in the memory of death unending,

    Tiger the valiant,
    Tizza the gregarious,
    Toy... the softer than chocolate in the sun, inside the sun,
    my doggies, my babies
    and all the knowledge of wonder and timelessness of pain.

    Emptiness,
    as large as the distance separating us
    how can all of it reside inside me
    and still leave place for lungs and bones
    and whatever’s left of heart?
    Whatever’s not left of heart is with you, there, wherever.

    I did not want to cry,
    I wanted to show strength, determination, masculine brawn...
    I howled like a baby,
    worse,
    kissing your images frozen under the layer of lacquer
    and grinding the dust between my teeth
    together with the salt and pieces of lip...
    I miss you,
    biting, licking, bitching... ha, bitching,
    so many humans worthy of the “compliment”
    and you, so human your definition.

    I don’t look behind me,
    I look forward
    to the day we meet again.

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Tizza, the First

to my puppy...

    There were many in town – Azorel, Biju, Rex, Balan, Dox, Fifi... – most living in courtyards, some in the streets. I knew them all, if through caresses if through bites, yet I didn’t know of any that lived inside a house. Except for Tizza of course, my dog. The wonder dog of Botosani, my birthplace.

    I don’t think many shared my view on her wonderfulness except, maybe, my parents. It didn’t mean a thing to me what others might have thought – it was my opinion which counted and none other. And at the advanced age of five, where – more or less – my life started, at least in my memories, I did have one stubborn opinion. First I loved Tizza. Then my parents. And then all kinds of other beings – dogs, people, horses, teachers, in an order which varied according to who I fought with today and who was nice to me today. Of course, Tizza could bite me all she wanted, her place as number one was unconditional. Oh, and I hated girls.

    My grandparents, my father’s side, were orthodox Jews. They were as poor as earth unseeded, living in one single room which played the multiple role of kitchen, sleeping quarters, bathroom. No electricity and neither flowing water. My grandpa’s “business”, if it could be called this way, was ironmongery – collecting and selling old iron in all shapes and forms. A pious Jew, long white beard, small of stature and... old for as long as I knew him. And my grandma, the same. No beard of course. But known to be a miracle healer – and I believed in it, at the time. Thinking back, I think I still do. Nine sons and one daughter, but no dog. Where could they have put a dog in addition to so many children in that one insalubrious room? And no love for dogs - after all, orthodox Jews are at best indifferent to dogs. Mostly – they are afraid of them. This was definitely not the source of my dog-love genes, though a mutation could have happened with my father as a first generation in the series.

    Any gene splitting theory stands a similar chance on my mother’s side. Her parents being less orthodox – no beard – but not less pious and not less productive with eight daughters and two sons in a double room house, not as poor but still poor enough to hunger, and making a living from tailoring for peasants. No dogs, of course, but with one daughter – my mom – which seemed to have been bitten, sic, by the dog-love bug. Grand scale.

    My parents never told me how the mongrel bitch came to be with them, about two years before I happened into their lives. Them being as poor as their parents, in a two rooms “apartment” (inverted commas very intentional) at the upper end of a flight of wooden stairs, an attic attached to what was used mostly as kitchen, and for many years with no electricity and no flowing water. Yet – a dog in the house. Crazy. And, as I told in other annals (and won’t repeat here in detail, out of respect for my devoted public) so loving to the little beast, that when my mom carried the big belly containing me almost to her teeth and the dog got run over by a carriage, she defied all laws of gravitation and superstition and self-preservation and rushed him by foot to the only town hospital to get poor Tizza saved. She (the dog, not my mom) didn’t learn probably the lesson since, almost to her last day, she still kept chasing carriages. Not once returning home limping, yet victoriously enthusiastic with a piece of wood between her teeth. All of half a foot high, black and white, once inch of tail – but what a heart. A lion would happily have adopted her as second wife.

    Tizza was her nickname. Her full name was “Fetizza”, which in Romanian means “little girl”. But Tizza was so much more convenient, and she was so proud of it, returning home like an arrow from her numerous amorous adventures, once we called her by this name. Yes – “bitch and proud of it” was her slogan, and woe to dog or human who didn’t treat her with the appropriate respect. The dog would get bitten off our courtyard within seconds, no ceremony whatsoever. Humans... well, she had her way of making sure they knew who the real master of the house was: every first time visitor had to have - no exceptions and no excuses - their ankle nipped. Not blood deep, she had her own standards – just skin deep. Enough to make a statement before taking that dog nap once again. Thus nylons, which may have cost a fortune those days, were just money down the drain, and trousers ended with one or two tiny holes, luckily not always visible. Well, everyone was aware of it, and this one slip in her education was irrecoverable. And who wanted to recover it – it was both funny but also instilled a certain feeling of safety. Because there were quite a number of thieves roaming the area, and as long as little Tizza was on the watch – no one dared enter our house. The only serious problem was getting the mail. What is it with dogs and postmen? There was not much mail coming our way, but on the rare occasion it happened we had to lock her in the second room, making sure there are two doors between her and the postman or God knows what would have happened to his leg from the knee down.

    One litter per year was a minimum, she was a real player, and the first days after delivery she was the fiercest thing north of the equator. No one, not even I or my parents, could approach her delivery spot, a mattress in the attic, for about a week. Only when the puppies were at some limited crawling stage, she allowed us to touch them. We never knew the father, there were always several candidates to the honorary title, but as long as she didn’t care... Usually my parents were giving the puppies to acquaintances, at one or two months of age, never tossed them away. This was a real dogs loving home, before the title was coined. Only one time they didn’t find a taker fast enough, and one puppy stayed with us for about six months, until they found a home for him with family, in my mother’s birth village - Sulizza. Marinel was his name. I missed him a lot, quite some time after he was given away.

    Not all dogs are heroes. They don’t always save drowning people, or catch criminals, or fight off attacking wolves. I am sure she would have done it, if the need arose. With her mongrel’s instinct she was one of the wisest beasts I got to know, even to this day. But the need did not arise so I have no heroic deeds I can tell of. Just the daily beauty of a relationship of a type which, for a child, there is probably nothing warmer and more beautiful in its sincerity.

    My bed was her bed. Until the time when old age caught up with her, she slept at my feet. One of the very few acts of rebellion she kept repeating, no punishment working, until my parents finally gave up trying. She was waiting for the single bulb of the bedroom to be turned off, and I would lift the covers with my feet and she would jump on the bed, curling at my feet swiftly, knowing she’d better be quiet or the big bosses would get involved. Such comfort for both of us, mainly during the long, chilly winter nights. No, no central heating in poor old Romania at that time. Just one small iron stove in the kitchen, which my father would feed with wood at start of the evening, and both I and the dog would curl against it, and against each other – I scratching her belly, she licking whichever part of my flesh was within reach... I guess that nowadays it would have become a hit on You Tube. Thatadays, it was the simplicity of absolute beauty and love. I loved the little bitch to bits.

    Of the things I hated most and feared most was the city’s dog catcher. Henchman we called him. There were no dog collars, no registration papers, no chips, the dogs were mostly on the street and I guess that the guy had a job to do. And whichever dog he caught had very little chance of coming out alive from his clutches. But I hated him with a passion which only a child could feel. He caught Tizza several times, luckily there were always neighbors or acquaintances that rushed over to tell my parents, and each time I passed terrifying moments, until they brought her back. There was no real way to prevent it from happening – she was born into freedom and tying her up would have been as cruel as killing her. So we had to live with this continuous fear in our chests. One day Tizza may not come back and we may not be able to save her. I just kept hoping it would never happen. And I felt such sorrow, such childish indignation to human cruelty, that whenever I was hearing that the henchman was on the prowl, I was swiftly organizing children details armed with sticks and stones, and we were attacking him and his carriage oblivious to his flailing whip, and frightening the dogs away from his path. I guess there were not a few dogs that lived to see another day because of us. And I started developing a childish live-and-let-live philosophy which is part of me to this day.

    Tizza was getting old. Do dogs get old? I learned that, unfortunately, dogs lived less than children. And they may die just too early and too fast for us to get used to the idea. It started when I saw that she was not running so fast up and down the stairs anymore. Whereas she was previously running almost human like, one leg on one step at a time, hilariously so when she was running downstairs, she was suddenly jumping from one step to the other with both legs; sometimes hesitating before the next jump, sometimes stumbling. She couldn’t jump on my bed anymore, just lifting her body on hind legs and leaning with the front paws on the bed frame, then squealing softly until I picked her up and tucked her in. She was moving slower, heavier. A dog which never once in her life peed in the house, she was losing it from time to time. I appreciated, admired my mom’s patience, when she was using her coal filled ironing tool to dry as much as possible the stain from that one carpet, that took my parents years of savings to buy.

    We tried to help the poor dog by lifting her to the clay-floored attic several times a day, and letting her do her thing. I was contributing my part to the effort even more, by trying to remind her what she had to do – walking and peeing in circles on the dusty floor in front of her, from time to time hitting some electrical wires through shredded insulation and watching sparks... no, nothing happened to me, I’ve got my two sons years later. I don’t think it helped Tizza much. Tizza was dying. Of nothing else but old age. I knew it with my almost adolescent heart but refused to accept it.

    Several years earlier, mid of the fifties, my parents had send in to officialdom an emigration request, to leave Romania and move to Israel. There were many question marks, many hesitations related to this request – accumulating persecution at work, persecution at school, foreseen hardships... A wave of emigration permits was in the air, which started about two years earlier, and to the other question marks – a powerful one added itself: what do we do with Tizza, if we get our permission? There was no way to take her with us, there was no way to leave her behind.

    I came back from school. It was a day like all the others, nothing special. I dropped my school things and was about to go out to play. I saw my parents whispering to each other.

    “We have something to tell you,” said my mother, softly.

    “Tizza,” I said, feeling tears choke me up.

    I went to my bed, covered myself over the head with my blanket, and started crying. My father buried her in the garden. He asked me if I wanted to see her one last time, and I refused. I was so afraid to see my Tizza dead. Oh, how much I wish today I would have said yes.

    A few months later we got our permission to emigrate. The biggest dilemma solved itself, the others were easy. The night before we had to take the train, I kissed a girl for the first time. Then I went to cry on Tizza’s bed. Next morning we left forever that place of so many and such wonderful memories.

    *

    I’ve had three dogs since. All their names starting with T – Tiger, Toy, Tizza the second. All in memory of Tizza. The first.

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I wish

to my puppy...

    I wish I had pictures of you
    to remember,
    though I remember.

    I wish I could have dug that square piece of earth
    where you lay under
    and carried it with me wherever I went
    through life,
    my first companion,

    my first friend, my friend.

    I lost you there
    in that strange land
    between strangers
    and I cringe under the fear that you feel lonely, forgotten,

    you are not. How could you ever be?

    Licking my tears when I was crying
    warming my feet when I was cold
    biting to death when I was in danger,

    sleeping like an angel
    when winter filled the courtyard white
    and the fire blazed in the small furnace
    and we lay together next to it, hugging, sleeping.
    I was not a child. I was a child with a dog.

    We have something to tell you, they said.
    They did not have to say.
    I locked myself in the attic and for three days I cried your death.
    And oh, how lucky I was that I did not have to leave you behind
    like all those grownup monsters planned,
    oh, how lucky I was.

    Oh, how I miss you, oh, how I miss you.

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