We Are All Complicit

In Mariupol, a man searches
all night in the rubble of his house.
“Four children, four adults,” he says,
as day breaks. He starts to dig their graves.

On a New York street a man lies not breathing.
I join the circle around him waiting for help.
“Bad smack,” someone says. “Get up, get up,”
the man’s friend urges. “Don’t die on me.”

My student brings her first-grader to class.
He leans against her, too tired to fuss.
After class she gathers him and her bags.
Where are they going? I’m afraid to ask.

A streak of sun falls through my window.
My hand moves its shadow across the page.

The Glass of Red Wine

The red wine I poured for Carlos stayed
a dark hemisphere, untouched in his glass,
throughout our dinner.
With their usual hyperbole,
my dreams that night accused me:
I did wrong to give
what he couldn’t accept,
something perhaps toxic to him,
like the poison my son used to charge me
with putting in his coffee.
Fixed on my own misdeed, I try
all night to unpour the wine,
as I’ve often worked
to rewrite Aaron’s story.

Earlier, in his talk about our broken world,
Carlos was at ease, serious, forward-looking,
with no question of his right to speak,
no need to impress. He reminded me
of Aaron before he lost his mind—
unpretentious, direct, intelligent—
and then gone—his mind, then him.

This moment seems so small
a platform, the interval between the time
that’s done and irrevokable, yet still alive,
fecund and quivering with what I might
have done—and the time to come,
woven of maybes and airy ifs.

How did I close myself into this small place?

Jacob and the Angel

I was alone near the ford in the dusk
when your calls reached me, low and intimate.

“Jacob,” you said quietly, up close now.
I took in your broad shoulders, the authority
on your face. We reached out at once.
I wanted more hands to know you with,
to feel the insides of your thighs.
My cock nuzzled yours.

But you were gripping my balls, saying
“Your seed is bad, your sons will do wrong.”
“Who are you to say that?” I asked,
and shaking, I slammed back your jaw,
your beard wool on my hand.
When you threw me onto my back
I matched your strength to thrust
you off, and my leg almost pulled
from the socket. Falling into pain,
crying, I asked again, “Why?
Who are you?” But I saw why:
you were afraid to be known.
You were tender now I was hurt,
kissing my thigh, my cock, up again.
Wrapped in your arms,
I struggled, dazzled by your beauty,
till I was hard again.

When the morning sun lit my confusion,
I asked again, “Who are you?”
You threw your arms up in a wide shrug
and crowned me: “Your name is Israel now.”

This punishing love will live for generations.

At the Church of St. Bartholomew

We leave the congestion of London streets,
so befuddling that I never know where
east or west is, to enter the ancient church,
quiet and dark and small,
and on this July day, warm and dry,
its air offering traces of incense.
I tread the worn paving stones,
read the names and dates of the dead
on the walls and floor.

Candles are 50 pence for two. Unbeliever
though I am, I hold each wick
to the flame of one already alight
and set it in a holder. The first is for my son,
buried in a Jewish graveyard across the ocean,
the second for my mother, ashes
in a garden these twenty-five years.

This act of remembrance links my dead
with the generations already here.
I sit down in a pew to breathe
and remember that churches face east.
I know where I am now.

Ingrid Blaufarb Hughes: “My memoir about my son, Losing Aaron, was published in 2016 by Irene Weinberger Books. My poems and stories have appeared in many periodicals including Adelaide, Lilith, West Branch Review, Kalliope, Mudfish, The Birmingham Review, The Massachusetts Review, and most recently in De La Mancha. For most of my life, I lived in New York, where I raised my children and taught English to immigrants and native New Yorkers at the City University of New York. I now live in the Hudson Valley where I volunteer in the prisons with the Alternatives to Violence Project.”