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My Mother Died on Shavuot

ISSUE:  Autumn 1996

My mother died on Shavuot, at the end of
the Counting of the Omer.
Her oldest brother died in 1916; he fell in the war.
I almost fell in 1948, and my mother died in 1983.
Everyone dies at the end of some counting, long or short,
everyone falls in a war and deserves
a wreath, a ceremony, an official letter.
When I stand at my mother’s grave
it’s as if I’m saluting,
and the hard words of the Kaddish are like a gun salute
into the bright summer sky.

We buried her in Sanhedria next to my father’s grave,
we’d saved a place for her
the way people do on a bus or at the movies:
we left flowers and little stones, so that no one
would take her place.

(Twenty years ago the graveyard
was on the border, facing the enemy positions.
The tombstones were a good defense against tanks.)

But when I was a child, there was a botanical garden here,
all sorts of plants and shabby wooden signs
with names in Hebrew and Latin:
the Common Rose, Mediterranean Sage,
the Common Shriek, the Tufted Lamentation,
the Annual Lamentation, the Perennial Grief,
the Crimson Remembrance, the Sweet Remembrance,
the remembrance and the forgetting.


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