Sunday, October 19, 2008

Ecce Cur Menum


You would expect it to be mercurial:
when chopped into little pieces,
each bit should attract another
until the heart resumes
its proper size and shape.

It does not.

It breaks up into
salt and potassium
and who knows what else

uselessly elemental.

Perhaps even carbon:
I think I have found
my carbon footprint
stamped into my heart,
like clogs of puzzle waiting
to be reassembled.

I have not been good:
pieces of clumpy soil
deprived of its oxygen
have stopped up my heart:
grass uprooted,
flowers black with age.

How easy as a child
to break a thermometer
and let the mercury
swim together!

No more.
Only shards of glass-
and muddy ash.


Friday, September 26, 2008


G-d gives us this period of time before Yom Kippur to purify our selves in order to be worthy of standing in front of Him and asking forgiveness.This time should be used well; it is another one of His precious gifts.

I have been praying a lot for ridding myself of desire, that succulent snaky thing that crawls all over your innards and makes you stop short some times because your breath has simply been taken away. (I think I can begin to understand Graham Greene's "The End of the Affair" a bit better now. "G-d, save us from this bomb falling over our home, and I will give up my desire forever.")

Giving up desire is not easy, especially when it comes at this late hour of life. The desire itself reminds me of being young and of having functional bodily parts that etiologically and correctly used to stir rather frequently for the purpose of reproduction. Now there is no purpose at all: just needless lust that creeps into the bedroom to mock me and hovers like the ghost that it is over my empty, lonely body.

Giving up desire is particularly difficult when the desire is for the wrong person: a gonnif, a thief, who has eaten away at me like the cancer that once destroyed some of my bodily parts. Giving up desire becomes especially hard precisely because it is so forbidden and reminiscent of the two year-old girl who had to choose between her seductive daddy and the stern truth of her mother's realities.

So I use this time to rid myself of desire, but the nighttime dreams still steal into my bedroom and the same old snake sneaks through the keyhole.

I pray for purification so that I might stand before the L-rd and pray for forgiveness.

Monday, September 1, 2008

But Will the Levees Hold? - 1 Sept.2008

Oh heart:

Let's you and I imagine inside me
ten trillion drops of blood trying to push through
barriers like those barely built in New Orleans,
the city of sin that belongs in
the Old Testament, awaiting flood
after flood, until nothing remains
but the little boy who says, "My mama's dead;
someone pushed her in the water."

Heart, we have been pushed into water, too.

What if this time the crude levees clearly break
and the droplets rush in to become Red Seas
of hate, anger, despair, and, worst of all, the chance
of no more love in this very small country
we call my soul? Oh, Lord, spare my son
the sight of seeing his mother drown
in the detritus of her own overgrown cells;

Heart, let us hold on to what we know
of life and its sustenance and of prayer.


Thursday, August 14, 2008

for Greg, Dallas, TX., 3/5/84

Missions outside this house acquaint us with death:
You return to your historic pines
that bend and cross
and tangle a web
of Reynoldsian green.
Along the dirt roads, among the cones,
small animals lie dead,
and snakes that shed skins from year to year
remind you that, in another life,
you are the one who came from there.

And I, one thousand miles north,
search the sands for memories.
Footprints beached over; mine that year -
his, hers, theirs - everywhere.
The rot that comes to shore
might be dead, half-dead or alive:
jellyfish that sting when you touch;
mussels inside shells; a drop of seawater
under the glass, swimming
with creaturely life.

The skulls of old women amaze us both.
The wrinkled forehead skin
shrunken so thin
as to allow faint bands of light
to penetrate the bone enclosed within.
We resist the basic urge to bend and kiss
in search of softer body flesh.

Instead, we carry our need back to this house
where the dying and dead
inhabit museums
inside our heads.

ellen moser

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

from CARING TODAY magazine

"Anger is a prevalent reaction to being a caregiver, but few confess to it.... She [Bess] confides that she ended up enraged with her mother. 'With all my running for her, she never asked if this was too much for me. She just complained that I wasn't giving her enough attention.'"

"Still, guilt is a near-inescapable fallout. 'It's universal,' reports Dr. Tessina. 'You feel responsible for your parent's problems and guilty for not being able to do anything about them.'"

-by Anne Hosansky

Monday, June 30, 2008

Earthy Smell, for My Children

You have to watch the pansies. Give them
too much water, and they will rebel.
Lovely young faces turn puckered and old;
green stems turn yellow and uproot at a touch.
How much is too much? A sudden torrential
rain, of course, is disaster, and
even the well-meaning extra squirt of hose
by a friendly caretaker bloats the bowl
in which incredible beauty soon will fade.
So I take the pansies into my hall
before a rain, along with the delicate pinks
that have, to my knowledge, no name. They
stay overnight, sometimes, and then the
vestibule takes on the earthy smell
of out-of-doors, a smell that can be easily
confused with mildew and mold. Actually
it is the sign of salvation in progress,
for the next day the pots will be returned
to their spots in the sun.... It is always
easy to find analogy: our beau-
tiful faces that wrinkle with pride,
which we just cannot relinquish in the
light of day. So we take ourselves inside,
sleep perhaps a little too much and allow
our minds to return us to the people we are.

Love heals: the piercing of hearts that taints
the sunlight and turns it into dotted yolk
is the stuff of slime. So now it is time
to move back outside and learn to weather
with mercy and grace and lack of shame
what next time will be just a bit of rain.

ellen moser

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Graduation(s) at Nefesh

June 2005: Greg drops me off on Coney Island Avenue, not far from the Tree of Life Synagogue. I know without giving it any thought that he will pick me up at the same gas station when graduation is over. Of course, he does. I feel married and cared about, if only for transportation purposes.

June 2006: Graduation falls on Father's Day, and Jeff accompanies me. In my heart I am hoping that the uplifting ceremony and emphasis on Hashem will help him forget a bit that this is his first Father's Day without his Dad. Before he goes, he calls his father; there are a few tears, which I am sure he prefers I had not seen. The slide show at graduation is able to be shown because Jeff fixes the machine just on time. I am very proud.

June 2007: I am the proudest person in the synagogue! I have survived a craniotomy, a nephrectomy and 30 sessions of radiation! Sitting with me are my most favorite people in the world: Jeff, Sheryl and Sherry. Sheryl remarks that she will have to cover her head when she attends next year's graduation.

June 2008: I am alone and bereft this year. As part of the ceremony, one girl praises all the teachers in a very uplifting way. When she gets to my name, she thanks me for teaching her class "to appreciate everything." (The snap of recognition comes easily; I think to myself: This is how I raised Fred and Jeff.) Mrs. Newhouse comments that the name Esther means"hidden, shy, unknown, a queen; the name Yehuda," she gratuitously mentions, means, "thank you, Hashem, for giving me this wonderful child."

Be well, Yehuda.


Thursday, May 29, 2008

The Last Summer

This is my last

I must listen
to birds

And tend flowers;

My retinas
must train

On every
small stone.

I must recall
the sun

During final


Wednesday, May 21, 2008

from "The Need of Being Versed in Country Things," by Robert Frost

The birds that came to it* through the air
At broken windows flew out and in,
Their murmurs more like the sigh we sigh
From too much dwelling on what has been.

*an old barn

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Sonnet, 5/14/08

The strong honk of the morning gulls
sounds its sober call. The waves abound
with wealth to be found, and so the day's competition
has begun. I listen from my pillow
and imagine I am not alone.
Lying on my right arm, I can feel
breasts that seem much too grown. (Breasts
that fostered life for more than one full year,
now unfamiliar reminders of a child
also not known.) If I should hear the phone,
I'd ignore its electronic cries. If you
should knock on my door, I would hardly hear
or just pretend in my mourning haze
that nobody I knew was standing there.


Yahrtzeit, for my father, 7/15/89

There is a flame
that has no name.

it came
before a time
when flames
had names.

it smells
of pinks and reds
and featherbeds
and wooly cheeks
and spider's webs.

it burns
my ancient

it does not know
the king is dead.


for my father, d. 7/8/69

I am so little-girl hungry
for your hairy body:
climbing the rolling hills of legs
I bite
the swilling grass;
your toes poke my belly
and I squeal.

Oh Daddy-gone-by:
I take down your skull,
and I cry.

em 9/9/87

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

from Jeff, Mother's Day, 2007

"The flower reminded me of you - struggling to grow and in improbably difficult and harsh circumstances (it's cement, for goodness sakes!) and managing not only to grow but to flourish into something very beautiful and special. Survival against the odds is a blessing."

Mother's Day, 2008: Jeff, as I always tried to grow you.

Saturday, May 3, 2008


Mom, I thought of you today
and the way you'd pin
a scarf to your hair sometimes. You never said
it was what your own mother had done
in the shtetl, across the sea, every day of her married life.
You never asked me to do the same, for perhaps
the covering of your head represented only a gesture,
the fix for a bit of unruly hair some afternoons,
two pins haphazardly placed, one over each ear.
Who will ever know?
All that I know is of your beauty:
how that slight tuck of hair enhanced
the best face I have ever seen.
I,the ugly duck, you,the queen of sequins and the divine,
each serving her duty to the other:
mother to daughter, daughter to mother,
played out one million times before.

In your last photo, taken on the front porch,
your face takes on the look of an entire generation.
Tumor hidden, a simple transcendent light
glows from inside your brain. You display
only a slight backward glance.
You would be dying soon, and it was fine;
years had played themselves out,
and you had chosen your next in line.
All was well: You had transferred your hell.
The Queen is dead; now lives her broken shell.

ellen moser
for mom's 104th birthday

Friday, May 2, 2008

Dream, May 2, 2008

I am hopelessly and terrifyingly lost, even on the streets of Sea Gate.

I have lost Jeff, and cannot find him.

I search for Greg and cry out, "Is Greg gone too?"

I finally find Greg. He refuses to believe Jeff is lost.

My car is lost; cannot get anywhere.

I am walking the streets of Sea Gate, naked to the waist:exposed. Nobody notices.

Won't someone in the world please help me?

Wednesday, April 30, 2008


the day the music died

Sunday, April 6, 2008

Sweet Simples

The sweet simples of sanity:
My love,
when you went away, I doted on the dance
of dust in sunbeams; I lived by the placement
of spoons; the arrangement of rooms; the presence
of spools and needles and pins and threads that kept me
walking through days and space without you.

We were the simplest of simples:
blood reds, bone whites, mud browns.

Sweet solid simples! Grain of wood
on old tables; the tiny rims of thimbles;
melted- down candles;
jars of Indian head nickels.

O simple simple simples.


Saturday, March 29, 2008

Poem, for Jeff

That time I was in heaven,it was pink with flowers.
The pink was essential pink, or perhaps platonic
pink, so pink it was. My baby boy flew
through the pinkness on angel's wings,
his sunlit hair down to his eyes but blocking
his vision not at all. (The sunlight, you see,
carried such blessing.)There were Greg Daddies
all around, and so easy to catch one. "Please,
Daddy, read me "Charlotte's Web" just one more
time, and of course he did, each time you asked.
So many happy leaping piggies! So many
miracle webs! SOME PIG! Some Daddy!Some Mommy,
fighting her way back to the world of pastries.
A long time from now, Mommy will hold her one true
Love in that very pink flowery heaven
And we will kiss all sadness away.

e. moser, heart on fire

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

For Molly, by Carl Dennis

For him to remember what he was
Back in the days he knew the truth
You knew, loved what you loved,
Would be to bear on his back a grief
Too massive for the narrow door of his house
On the quiet side street, where his one wish
Is to sleep through the night unvisited.
So your face is airbrushed from the photograph,
Your name erased from the history book
Of his little country, the thoughts
That could testify on your side
Banished to a cold Siberian wilderness
To die unmourned for, with no witnesses.
You are the only archive now of a state too small
For any stranger to care how it once was ruled
In the old days, under the old king.

May a town that loves the truth
Be yours one day and invite your chronicling.
May you love the honest talk of the town square
And the gentle way the shoppers push through the aisles
With their shopping carts and exit to the lots.
The school bus stops at the crosswalk in the dark,
Its lights flashing, and the children climb aboard.
Your life will serve them as a guide and, later,
When they travel and can make comparisons,
They'll understand how rare their luck was.

But if no town receives you and you lose heart
And fall away from the woman you once were,
You won't pretend that she never lived, as he does.
You'll be sad to think how far you've come
From the customs of her country.
You'll be happy you can still remember her.

Friday, January 11, 2008


Crying has been in the news a great deal lately. Coincidentally, I have been giving a lot of thought to the topic of tears.

One shabbos night, the rabbi started explaining tears to Iser. Some, it seems, come out of tear ducts; the rest leave the body through special tubes in the nose.

"Oh," said Iser excitedly. "That is why a nose blow is different from a crying blow," causing the rabbi to nod his head appreciatively.

Now, think for a moment: Why did Hillary's tears make the headlines? Because she is a woman, and would-be female leaders commit political suicide when they show emotion? Because she IS a woman, and wanted to show that she can cry openly, unlike most men, who are, at best, emotionally constipated? Or because the whole nation, the press being bellwether for the entire U.S.of A.,has such mixed feelings about tears that they did not know what to do with them? Mock them; praise them; ridicule them; sympathize with them - qui sait?

As usual, the private is political and vice versa. The people around me hardly know how to react when I cry. I try to remind them that shed tears contain harmful stress hormones; after all, everyone knows the research results that showed major differences in the compositions of "real" tears and "tear-jerker" induced tears.But even this knowledge is no comfort: When I cry, people leave the room; make jokes about faucets; turn their backs and even leave the house and marriage. After crying, I always feel better and have to start rounding everyone up again.

So why the great ambivalence? Nobody freaks (except brand-new parents) when a baby cries; nobody (that I know of) goes nuts when a puppy starts yip-yipping. Why then are adult tears so hard to tolerate?

The answer must lay somewhere in our archaeological past, but where? Did crying signal imminent death? (What a riot must have ensued when Christ started crying blood.) Did people actually start crying blood when things got bad enough? Were tears the last outburst of fluid when a woman was about to die in childbirth? Or what? Sometimes people try to fake tears: crocodile tears. (Do crocs pretend to cry?) Other times people laugh, even when the going becomes rough, until they cry: laughing with "yashtikahs" (salamanders). Other times people cry tears of pure joy. (Where do the stress hormones go then, or is it that even pure joy is stressful?)

Anyway, I'll let you know about the tears at Jeff and Sheryl's wedding next week. I really think that paying someone to apply makeup may be a bit of a waste of money, unless of course all the ingredients will be waterproof plus,,,,