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Jewish Journal

On Being Jewish, Perhaps

by Mariano Zaro, Zocalo Public Square

June 9, 2014 | 11:20 am

The staircase is L-shaped

with a huge cactus in the corner.

Be careful with that,

my mother says every time

we go to visit my aunt Pepa.

Today we are there

because her son has died.

 

Her son was away, in college.

He wanted to be a lawyer but

liked music most of all.

He died suddenly, they say.

 

Everybody is in the kitchen,

my aunt and the neighbors,

all women, dressed in black.

My mother is not,

she didn’t have time to change.

 

My aunt Pepa is sitting in a low chair,

she looks smaller than ever.

My mother and my aunt are cousins,

I believe. They hug, cry, don’t really talk.

My mother grabs my arm,

brings me closer to my aunt.

I kiss her. She is cold, the air is cold.

A neighbor brings a couple of chairs.

He was so young, somebody says.

Nobody knows how he died.

We sit down.

 

The kitchen smells like bleach.

     There is no food around.

     This is the first time I see

     the kitchen like this—

     so clean, empty,

     all pans and pots

     put away in the cupboards,

     no fruit in the fruit bowl,

     no dish in the dish rack,

     no bread.

 

     I look at my mother.

     Where is the body, I want to say.

     My mother leans over,

     whispers in my ear.

     He is in the hospital,

they have to do an autopsy.

Somehow my aunt hears my mother

and she breaks down

and sobs as if the word autopsy

was even worse than the word death.

 

I notice that the TV is covered

with a white tablecloth,

so is the large mirror over the credenza.

The mirror is a sailboat.

More neighbors come.

 

What is an autopsy? I ask my mother

as soon as we leave the house.

They cut you open, they look inside

and then they sew you back together

with long stitches as if they don’t care,

as if they all were in a rush. She says.

She stops and fixes the scarf

around my neck. This wind, she says.

What about the mirror? I say.

Oh, the neighbors did that, she says.

It’s because of the sadness.


Mariano Zaro is a poet and translator. He is the author of four poetry books, most recently Tres Letras/Three Letters (Morsa/Walrus, Barcelona). His translations into Spanish include the work of American poets Philomene Long and Tony Barnstone. He lives in Santa Monica, California.

This was written for Zocalo Public Square

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