From the time I looked at my watch
I knew I wasn’t going to make it,
Driving past rows of palm trees in the taxi
Mourning the heat from 400 feet up in the Miami summer
While you’d dehydrated on the trip down
From the 24th floor of Co-op City in the Bronx
And died before I could touch your hand.
Not exactly the kind of vacation you had planned.
After the funeral someone had squished
a grapefruit across the table from me.
Daddy had died a year before
In another hospital where the ceiling flaked.
You couldn’t admit he was on his way out,
Made your daughters swear we would zip up our mouths.
When I was younger, I wanted to scream
Until my throat collapsed for your not allowing me
To tell my father good-bye and how much I loved him.
Maybe I should've blamed myself for listening to you,
which I didn’t always do.
Anyhow, that’s a bed-time story for sleepwalkers,
Almost 40 years after your last dream
Of diving from a rockweed-covered pier,
Sea bladders filled with air pops
That you sucked for the first three miles
Until you exhausted yourself
And were pulled down into the Witch’s lair.
You were the first one who taught me how to swim
At Orchard Beach placing your hands
Beneath my stomach and told me to kick,
Not to be afraid, you would hold me.
But I always knew when you’d let go.
You would catch me then, beneath my belly,
A guppy that you brought home
From Woolworth’s one afternoon in a plastic bag
Filled with water, you joked my sisters
Had been rescued from a garbage can, strong stock
From the beer halls of Budapest to places
Where violets grew like gourds
Whose purple I've never seen.
Be there, and I would try to find you on the street,
In the high Magyar cheekbones of a woman
Waiting to order her half a pound of rye sliced without seeds,
I would attack any stranger with my hands and hug her knees.