My mother, was only a woman,
Which means no one
Should have been completely surprised
When she rejected the strictures
Of her orthodox Jewish upbringing
And chose to marry the boss‘s gentle, gentile son.
According to my aunts,
My mother refused to follow the rules
Almost from the beginning.
I have Gussie, Ruth and Bessie to thank
For the image of little Bella,
Quietly seated in the dark womb of the movie theater
Being held, comforted and inspired to rebellion,
As once again my grandmother snuck off
To the institution
To visit her damaged baby boy.
I suspect my grandfather and uncles
Never knew of this sacrilege or, perhaps,
Turned a blind eye to the wicked,
Behaviors of the weaker sex.
I never saw their faces or learned their names;
My mother tried to erase them
As thoroughly as they erased her
From the inner sanctum of their rule-bound lives.
The closest I ever got
To the male flesh and blood of my Jewish ancestors,
Was when Abie, the youngest,
Showed up in our kitchen, dazed and disoriented
By the miraculous but short-lived escape
From the prisons of his body and mind.
He never fully outgrew his own youth, so
Could answer no questions about my mother’s.
The curtain of separation remained intact
Between the religiously pure and the proudly tainted.
The uncles who might have told me stories
Remained absent and silent to the end
Leaving the final word in the unspoken dialogue
To my mother.
I accompanied her to the closed-casket funeral
Of the last of my always invisible male relatives
Where she did not shed a tear
Nor tear a piece of clothing . . .
I suppose, if anyone really remembered her,
It did not come as a complete surprise
That she ignored the conventions;
But were they thankful for the constraint
That prevented her from spitting on the plain pine box?
Or impressed by the strength and resilience
Of this tiny, gray-haired woman as she bid farewell
To the last of the chosen ones
Who had denied but scarcely damaged
The grace of her existence?