—A Photo. Jewish History Museum, Amsterdam
The wind comes from the north
and gathers strength across
the flatness of the polders. In the gray
light of dawn, trains slide over canals
carrying long ribbons of faces.
There are glimpses of life in the windows
of seventeenth-century houses.
In one, a vase of red tulips, in another
a woman lost in reflection combing her hair.
She pauses, her thoughts
caught in the black and white
net of the past.
There are no color photos.
A small knot of people stand
in a courtyard, pressed into a corner
between massive brick walls.
One arm is outstretched
like a white scarf in a plea
for ordinary life. A bleak
wind rattles the shutters. Faces
in the windows of the trains
float like small colorless tulips
held against the dawn.
Late afternoon. My sister sits down
at the piano, raises the hinged lid, and studies
the rows of black and white keys
spread before her—
a black and white map, an elusive code, a band
of black deer running across a snowfield.
What will flow out of her now into the world?
The piano relaxes—its many carbon-steel wires
unperturbed, its tiny hammers asleep in their berths.
And silence begins to accumulate
into a lucent blue lake—the blue of submarine
canyons and nocturnes—over
which swallows dip and veer, wide-gaped,
scooping insects out of the air.
Quietly the piano floats and reflects everything—
a moment's happiness
the calmness of the lake, a single breath
held in the beak of a swallow.
At the Garden Center
The garden center damp with breath
of the nearby canal. Bare light bulbs. Quivering
tinsel. Even in her blue coat
and with her handbag over her arm,
she is feeling cold. So in a back corner,
somewhat protected, we sit at a round table
sipping tea out of paper cups surrounded
by owls, gnomes, hedgehogs, mushrooms,
and buddhas, set out on the concrete floor,
green price tags attached—
as if we are part of a bizarre fairy tale.
The mother says to the floor—
I'm not quite ready for the bone-pile yet.
And the tinsel flickers in agreement.
The daughter says to the table, while studying
the blue cables of veins crossing her mother's
hands—You've pulled strongly my whole life.
And the gnomes cross-legged on toadstools
nod their assent. And the weeds outside
in the fields stand up straight, stiff with frost.
So silence travels slowly
across the table between us. In it we can hear
the poinsettias murmuring as they take
small sips of water into their leaves.
And the voice of the canal growing hoarse
as it slides under the bridge.