Two Poems by Robbi Nester

Closet

As a child, my parents’ bedroom was my playground—
especially my mother’s vanity, lacquered to a shiny
honey-brown, with carved feet arching like a horse’s
fetlock. I would stare into her mirror till my face grew
strange, pore through photos of her family in the drawer.
Their faces are still burned into my brain. Besides
the vanity, I loved their closet, where old purses
smelled of lavender sachet and purple sens sens,
old lipsticks’ tarnished canisters shone in the shadow
of her clothes. Here I found those broad-shouldered
jackets my mother used to wear during the war.
I wore them in high school with the scarves and
jewelry she bought in Italy. In comparison, my father’s
meager horde of shirts and slacks seemed sad, hiding
in the darkest corner. His few shirts sagged, dejected,
on the hangers, all blue, with breast pockets where
he would put his pens. His fearsome belts, still
for once, hung on a nail. My parents didn’t seem
disturbed that I was trying on their clothes, shuffling
across the floor in their big shoes, exploring everything.
I was quiet, couldn’t hurt myself or destroy the clothes
or jewelry. I had to leave them where I found them,
never take them from the room, not unless I asked,
a rule I gladly minded. Years later they were all still
there, furred with dust. The rats and roaches ran riot
through my former playroom, gone to rags.
It was a kind of justice, I suppose: I was the one
responsible for cleaning it all up, the family
wreckage fallen to its one beleaguered heir.

*

BBG

At age 13 I joined a Jewish youth group. My mother
wanted me to go to dances once a month. I couldn’t
dance, so I stood there in the corner in my mother’s
homemade finery, watching the others do the Cool
Jerk and the Bristol Stomp, though I never mastered
any of the moves. I don’t remember much about
those nights, except the longing, the wish that I could
just let go, feeling my head sway, hips and arms flow
with the rhythm of the band, playing “My Girl” and
“Wipe Out” too loudly and a bit offkey. Not long ago,
on Facebook, an old friend shared a photo from those
times. There I was on the top steps of the old JCC,
in my navy peacoat, bangs flung forward over one
eye, looking skeptical and slightly bored, already
on my way out of that crowd.

*

Robbi Nester is the author of four books of poetry and editor of three anthologies. She is a retired college educator and elected member of the Academy of American Poets. Her website is at http://www.RobbiNester.net

In the Beginning by Robbi Nester

In the Beginning

When I was three, the street signs used to taunt
me with arcane symbols, not yet words. I knew
that if I studied them, they would open-sesame
the world I dreamed about, the one in books,
built out of these odd symbols. I filched a paper
from the corner store and stared at it for hours,
till the letters rose like flame from a struck
match. It was years before some kind adult
taught me the alphabet. Instead, my father
took the newspaper away and punished me
for stealing it. Later, every week, I’d borrow
ten books from the library. I couldn’t wait
to open them. But my mother thought
that children ought to play outside. I hid
out in the car like an assassin, sat silent
on the darkened cellar stairs, a stack
of books beside me, Prometheus, savoring
the danger, hoarding this stolen light.

*

Robbi Nester is the author of four books of poetry and editor of three anthologies. She is a retired college educator and elected member of the Academy of American Poets. Her website is at http://www.RobbiNester.net

Jay Fai by Robbi Nester

Jay Fai

In Thailand, where the most sublime
cuisine comes from street carts,
she stands over a white-hot wok
clad like a diver in goggles and
close-fitting cap. She could be
any age, although we’re told
she’s in her seventies. At first,
she was a seamstress—tiny stitches,
hems finished off with lace,
proud of her artistry. Later,
she taught herself to cook,
tasting till she got it right.
It’s meticulous attention
that makes her version
of these dishes worth traveling
from another continent
to try. She dreams only
of working, closed her shop
just once: the day that Michelin
awarded her a star. Now
so many want to watch
her cook there’s hardly room
enough for paying customers,
those able to afford a seat,
a plate of drunken noodles,
crab omelet, brown and bursting.

*

Robbi Nester is the author of four books of poetry and editor of three anthologies. She is a retired college educator and elected member of the Academy of American Poets. Her website is at http://www.RobbiNester.net