ppf Playlist: Wendy Klein reading her poem
WTK/September/October – revised December 2008
My mother looks down at her feet;
her high-heeled platform shoes,
her city-girl suit, so out of place
among her Connecticut in-laws,
relaxed in ‘weekend casual’.
Her sister-in-law, twin to Brunhilde,
drapes a heavy arm around her neck.
while my goyish grandmother, not yet
away with the fairies, exudes radiance,
her own feet laced up in old-lady-posh.
Beside her auntie May sports careless
mix and match, idles with a cigarette;
narrows her eyes against smoke, sunlight
or the madness that will overtake her soon.
Cousin Patty is there, too – kitted out
in everyday-schoolgirl: saddle-oxfords,
bobbysox, thick glasses. It’s their sturdy
comfy style horrifies my poor mother.
Digitised sepia picks out her tongue, its way
of protruding through lips too dark, too full;
her Semitic tongue she’s sharpening for later,
when she’ll lacerate the soul-less goyem,
stamp them with labels: the Amazon sculptress;
the fish-eyed schoolgirl, mishuganah May,
lurching towards incarceration, divorce
death. My clever mother who barrelled
through her short life on irony and insults -
her eyes avoid the photographer, my father,
who held her future in his hands, let it slip
through his fingers. She might have stayed
to teach me what humour conceals,
about the anxious soul that lurks
in every stand-up comic; every Jew.