for Gerald Stern
Give me back the long heat wave, the sweat dripping
from eyelashes, the stained blouses, the black windows,
the spiders dangling from their silver bridges,
the wasps lighting on the branches of the cedar bushes
as they waited for me to make a dash for the screen door.
Give me back Herman Meltzer, our upstairs neighbor,
who forged his last check with a flourish before the police
took him away in his checked pajamas, handcuffed.
Give me back Hanna Gorelick in her red satin robe,
her hair in rollers; and Cathy Cowser naked in front of the window;
and “A Day in the Life” with its scratches and pops,
John Lennon singing “I read the news today, oh boy…”;
and my thick brown hair—every morning
I brushed it down so hard my scalp stung, but the curls
sprung up before I left the bathroom mirror;
and my father warning the butcher at Sherman’s Deli
not to trim off too much fat from the corned beef.
And give me back Barbie Silverman’s long smooth legs
in her black short shorts, the Santa Maria rising from
the bottom of the river, the goddess undressing in the eye of the Arch
as the rabbis chanted to the brown muddy water.
Give me back the blue butterflies streaming
through the emptiness above the tall white sycamores,
the speckled blackbirds shitting on the Handshears’
new Oldsmobile, no matter where they parked.
Give me back my mother balancing her checkbook at the kitchen table—
“Everyone in Israel is beautiful,” she says; and
my father in his shorts, thumbing through
a thumb-size version of The New Testament and
marking in red the passages he would use to make his sales pitch to the goyim,
raising his fist to the TV tube every time he hears
another special report—“But is it good for the Jews?”—
and my sister with her thick black hair,
waiting by the silent phone for a date to call.
Give me back the burning red coils in the sky, the plague of locusts,
God railing into the wind, the dark news that floats through the windows,
the spark of light at the beginning of our world.