Last week’s post, MY FATHER’S DREAM, plucked deep chords within readers.
I’ve decided to share more in relation to my father who, since his recent death, is very much in my mind and heart. Of course, what I post is never just the subject of my father.
I wrote IN THERE WITH THOSE GIRLS over twenty-five years ago in honor of my father’s 70th birthday. It was subsequently selected for publication by Marge Piercy, the poetry editor of TIKKUN Magazine at the time. LEAVENING, another poem chosen for publication at the same time, follows.
As always, your comments are warmly invited!
Listen to Ani read IN THERE WITH THOSE GIRLS and LEAVENING. Look for the media player at the end of each poem’s text below.
IN THERE WITH THOSE GIRLS
by Ani Tuzman
The chickens didn’t give anyone their eggs
the way they gave them to my daddy
like they loved him—the way
he learned their language. Ladies, he’d
call softly in English and Yiddish as soon
as he came through the door. It’s just me.
Takiteasy, he would say. One long word
he stroked them with. Takiteasy.
If I came in the coop with him, they would
cackle like crazy like they weren’t going to
calm down no matter how nice he asked them.
So I would go out and just listen—listen
to my daddy singsong those mean white birds
with his tss tss tss and the ketsella and
bubala he usually reserved for my mother.
He’d roll up his sleeves, all the time making his
sweet sounds and looking them right in the eyes,
sliding his hairy arm under their plump bodies, his
fingers stretched in the straw for one of their
warm eggs. They would never peck at him or balk.
Once in a while one of them talked back and
my daddy would answer straight off, promising
I won’t hurt you, Sheina Meidella. You don’t need
to worry. He never ran out of sounds.
He’d have whole conversations while he filled
the wire baskets with eggs that cooled quickly.
In Uncle Menasha’s kitchen in the Bronx
my daddy said he hated the stink of the coops,
the dust, having to worry about the price of eggs
dropping. He knew the big farms, the ones that
did it all by machine, would sooner or later
drive the small farmers out. The handwriting was
on the wall, he would have said if he knew
English idioms. He complained instead, It’s a
fashtinkenna business. That’s all there is to it.
But in there with those girls he was
someone who threw the clock away,
moving among them like he was dancing,
like he was making love, as if he’d been
born on a chicken farm—clucking to them
all the way, soft clucks, staccatos,
whispering that they were so good, so beautiful,
such dedicated mothers.
Listen to Ani read “IN THERE WITH THOSE GIRLS”:
by Ani Tuzman
I was bred on rye
with caraway seed, dark rye,
light rye, salami sandwiches rich
with mayonnaise and tomatoes, sour
pickles docked like canoes
on my plate.
I was bred on occasional hysterics,
Yiddish idioms, broken
against the kitchen walls, echoing
in the lonely farmhouse
under hissing stars.
My grandfather dipped black crusts
in vodka for breakfast, my father,
a boy, given the moist
crumbs. During the War
my mother hid stale bread she
softened in the rusty rain.
Hastening out of Egypt,
there was no time to bake.
The leavening was of people
banded together like well-kneaded grain;
they breathed as one rising mound
in the heat.
Listen to Ani read “LEAVENING”:
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