Monday Morning Musings:
This post was sparked by Jane Dougherty’s Poetry Challenge 11—A poem based on a common saying. It’s probably not what she had in mind.
I also drew inspiration from this Washington Post column by Dana Milbank.
You can’t pee on my back and tell me that it’s raining.
The phrase is probably more striking in Yiddish*,
But I don’t speak the language of my ancestors
Though my mother spoke it fluently.
Now she remembers only bits and pieces
Of the language her grandparents spoke.
My uncle, my mother’s younger brother, knew it–
Only that, as a small boy, until teased by others
He forgot his first tongue.
Tongue-tied by American society.
In the car, my mom recounts old memories, her past,
Sitting there in the front, with my husband driving,
Roads and time both traveled, both flowing past.
She recalls how she and a school friend
Practiced dancing after school.
They were about twelve years old or so.
Giggling together and gliding about the floor,
1930s music and Depression dreams,
Just two schoolgirls having fun.
Children of immigrants in Philadelphia.
The dancing could not last long, sessions ending because
My mom had to make dinner, both her parents worked long
Hours in their candy store.
Her friend had chores to do, too,
Since her mother had run away with her lover,
He had been a boarder in their house–
Everyone had boarders in these immigrant homes–
Relatives, friends, and friends of friends.
We’re treated to gossip about people long since gone
And long ago scandals.
My mother said her cousin, the artist Abe Hankins,
Also practiced dancing with her, since he lived with them
For a time. She’s not sure how long.
Glamorous and sophisticated, she thought him,
He had just come from living in France.
He knew the latest styles. I suppose.
Was he studying art there
Before the winds of war blew that world away?
I learn he was wounded fighting in the first world war.
He was singer before he was a painter.
“He married his niece, you know,” she offers casually.
My eyebrows shoot up from the back seat.
“Oh. . .I didn’t know,” I say.
His brother’s daughter.
Well, the marriage lasted, I guess.
And his paintings now hang in museums.
Perhaps her story is not quite true
But mixed with others’ stories in the past.
I wonder if my mother is thinking of someone else.
Family history confused.
Reflecting on the past as the year turns over and we look
To the future. Reflections and dreams streaming through
A prism of what we know, bending and forming a rainbow
Colored by memory.
My husband and I have celebrated
The turning of the old year to the new with our dear friends.
For almost forty years, we’ve shared a celebration.
How is that possible?
Will we tell our children of long lost relatives?
Confusing their stories with others we knew?
January, named for the two-faced Janus. Backwards
And forwards we go. Should I make a resolution?
THIS is what I did last year.
THIS is what I will do this year.
Good luck with that, if you choose.
But no, not for me. I’ll just wing my way through
Another year, as I always do.
Making daily lists that I often ignore.
But oh, crossing items off feels so good,
Looking back and looking ahead, I suppose I could say I’ll
Learn Yiddish. But I won’t.
I could just as well say I’ll learn Italian, Latin, or Greek.
But I’m certain I will not.
I know enough Yiddish though
To know you don’t say anyone got schlonged.
So please do not pee on my back
And tell me that it’s raining.
I know the difference, I assure you.
Even if I can’t say it in Yiddish.
Instead, I will resolve to be the best I can be.
And if I fail–Well, it’s in the striving, isn’t it?
Learning comes from books, movies, and even watching TV.
From good talks with friends, and from listening, too.
The new year begins with old and new.
And I can dream of peace and light and good things to come.
Or as Mr. Carson of Downton Abbey says,
(As we bid the cast farewell this year)
“We must always travel in hope.”
* Du kannst nicht auf meinem rucken pishen unt mir sagen class es regen ist.
For New Year’s Resolutions, nothing can beat Woody Guthrie’s New Years Rulin’s. He resolves to brush teeth, to love everybody, and to beat fascism– among other things.