My Mother Holds Her Grief
like a collection of precious stones in a plum pouch. I watch her untie its silk strings & spread the stones across her satin sheets. She separates them by color & holds a cerulean blue with faceted edges up to the light. She rubs it over her body & lingers on her thigh, then takes a red thread & wraps it around. She hangs it from her neck, an amulet to hold her grief. She teaches me to hold her grief too, says it’s as easy as making a bed. Hold it there, fold it here, tuck the corners under. Always tuck the corners under. I sit beside her bed. She gives me a turquoise, cool and smooth. When she turns away, I rub it on my thigh & tuck it under the corner.
I should have left you first
but I waited until autumn’s red birds scattered
their seeds, giving way to a bitter winter, expected,
but holding out for a thaw. I waited for the peony,
pale pink, to emerge from the mound of dirt
near our doorstep, dependable, a return to life.
I waited for the blood moon to reveal itself, hopeful
it could be seen through earth’s hazy gaze—
I waited for spring’s rainy season to clear,
though June, being unseasonably stingy,
refused to cede a day without a downpour.
on summer’s cusp, I woke from a half sleep,
my skin drenched in knowing. still, my eyes
stayed shut, until the blue-black night found me.
I waited until the days stretched, the sun set late,
temperatures rose, and the duck in the Hosta
vanished, leaving a gap strewn with leaves and grass,
her batch of eggs hatched and ready to fly. I waited
until the children left, filled with illusions of time,
as if life was forever—a chance to do what I couldn’t.
I waited for your infatuations to wane, but they didn’t.
I waited for the first freeze, then blew my breath
into the icy vapor, kissing winter’s frosted air.
thinking, if I waited long enough, my haunted dreams
would disappear. and you did.
When We Dance
We dance on the hardwood floor. His white hair lays
bare my memories. The nights that lasted until morning.
The sound of Detroit Jazz pushes us. Belgrave, Franklin, Carter.
I turn it up. I’m wound. Our arms zig and zag, two old saws.
I hip bump him, snap my fingers. He lets out a surprised
laugh and twists me around our kitchen. I let him do it.
We twirl. His face is red, shy, like a boy. I want to seduce him,
but I don’t know. I’ve gotten used to not having.
My breath is hard. My hands sweat. I wonder if he took a Viagra.
I take his arm. Purple blotches stain his skin. Mottled by time.
In the morning, I ask if he remembers when each day took its time.
How we craved a chance to hear the silence.
Now, I store time in a stone. I step over its power to fool.
When I feel regret, I sink into a place with no light.
I worry that my last poem will be my last poem. Let’s talk about quatrains. I create a series of prompts, a list of lines. I’m exhausted from nothing. I list nothings. Nothing good can come from this. Can all this be for nothing? She has nothing on you, You know nothing about me. Only lines stacked, like my fine china, packed away, forgotten as the drop of dried cranberry stuck under the rim. I take the place settings out of the basement cabinet, sit on the cold concrete floor, and remove the felt separators. Nothing. I focus on the memories the dishes hold. An ekphrastic after the matching teapot? Nothing. Empty, like the dishes. I bring two place settings upstairs to soak. I shop for a roasting chicken, red potatoes, baby carrots, and a brown sugar pecan pie. If I can’t write, I’ll fill the damn plates.
Linda Laderman is a Michigan writer and poet. She is the 2023 recipient of The Jewish Woman’s Prize from Harbor Review. Her micro-chapbook, “What I Didn’t Know I Didn’t Know” will be published online at Harbor Review in September, 2023. Her poetry has appeared in The Gyroscope Review, The Jewish Literary Journal, SWWIM, ONE ART, Poetica Magazine, and Rust & Moth, among others. She has work forthcoming in Thimble Literary Magazine and Minyan Magazine. For nearly a decade, she volunteered as a docent at the Zekelman Holocaust Center in Farmington Hills, Michigan. Find her at lindaladerman.com