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ISSUE:  Summer 1996
While I was young, while death
was still the exception,
turning up shiny and unexpected
like a coin at the bottom of my purse,
I lived for the first time
away from home, two floors up
from a furrier and just above
a Greek family
where a sister killed her brother.

On Saturdays a deaf man
went from door to door in our building
selling needles, and I’d think, “Yes.
What a quiet activity it is,
to sew.” I too lived
without the bewitchment of speech.
Even the sound of rain stunned me.
So I trembled to hear
that wretched mother keening.

Slowly, I filled up my small room—
the last years at home
had starved me of myself.
To say I was happy is not exact. More,
like someone who agrees
to her own sacrifice or exile,
that it was necessary.

Night after night
the mother’s wails
rose up through the floorboards.
I imagined her in black, rent clothes
with her double sorrow, grief rising
and falling back. I imagined
that terrible rocking.
Each day as I passed
beneath the dark arch of the stairwell
I waited for her
to wave away scarves and darkness
and emerge, clear-eyed,
somehow reconciled.


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