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That ceremony

Howard sang of “Dutch cigars”
and “drinkin’ German beer” and
“singin country songs” and
“God, how much” he loved it here
Feisty writhes the bird with little
flecks of bright red and white on her neck—
wings and body the deepest, shiniest black
Does she forgive him? No!
Those old traditions, so punitive sometimes
People act like they like to punish
The pain of others isn’t, after all, their pain
They’ll never understand their pain
Grandpa, half joking, refused to go to the ballet
He told Mom, “What if I like it” he said
“then I’ll regret all those years I didn’t go”
Instead he takes my reluctant hippy, dippy,
rebellious, black bearded older brother Howard
to see the Catskill comedian, Buddy Hackett, live
I remember that comedian from TV
He was a middlebrow kind of
comedian, who swore a blue streak
(but only when you saw him live)
Grandpa was right to take the free tickets—
Buddy Hackett was a funny guy
Brutal dumb luck gets you here
We smile at the Catskill moon and dance
Do you think your luck will change?
A childhood terror chains his mind
“I could do better than this with my left hand”
he says, in disgust, as he looks
at the woeful plate of spaghetti
It drips in limpid, pink sauce—
the worse damn spaghetti ever
“There was a time when just to see her thrilled me
No one thrills me now”
“She says she loves me, but does she?”
An oceanic sadness within her
and he’s the bit of driftwood
she clings to so far from the punitive
watchers on this little foam of sea
He too will go out alone at night
when the punitive watchers sleep
When Matt died Jonathan refused to come to Iowa
for the family memorial with the rest of us
He was offended, he claimed, because
the memorial was to be held in a liberal church
The kind that didn’t require any particular belief—
just a gracious humanity
But a church it was
and that offended his new-found
Jewish sensibility, or so he said
But he’s no Jew, not really
He never goes to temple or prays
No homosexual can be truly Jewish and read
that damnable book
So Jonathan held his own ceremony later
at New Haven with a friend, a liberal rabbi, presiding
(the kind who doesn’t mind about homosexuality)
I thought at the time Howard’s angry, smirking smile
as he threw the dirt in Matt’s New Haven grave
(we brought some of Matt's ashes there to bury)
was inappropriate but thinking back on it now maybe
Howard was right to angrily mock us—
That ceremony so sad, silly and pathetic

 

 

-June 8, 2014-