Sometimes on a Saturday

I hear my long-dead father singing

Highball glass in hand -

he never drank Manhattans till the evening -

my father calls us all to order by the radio,

dark hair falling in his eyes,

Pall Mall half smoked between his fingers,

smoke curling up those long soft hands.

His hands were the pretty ones.

My mother’s, shorter, swollen-knuckled,

ironed shirts; he tapped invisible baton

against invisible conductor’s stand

while the orchestra tuned up.

Milton Cross describes the coming scene,

that voice I half believed was God’s:

“Butterfly tells her little son

how wonderful their lives will be

when Pinkerton returns.”

We quiet as the overture begins;

my father joins the aria, off-key and loud:

Un bel di vedremo.....” 

I have my mother’s sturdy hands,

short fingers, purple ropes of veins.

And, sad to say, I have my father’s voice.

Today I scrub the kitchen floor

tuned to the Met

and, elbow deep in soapy water,

I sing, off-key and loud,

about that lovely day,

the one that’s always coming,

the one just out of reach

still in our dreams.

--Mickey Ellinger

February 13, 1999

revised June 24, 2000

and again January 14, 2007

and June 2008

and January 2012

and February 2014

Mom’s Mantra

My old mom was dying

somewhat faster than the rest of us,

not yet on that last steep slide

but slipping slipping slipping. 

She was a woman full of wanting:

loved my roving dad nine children’s worth,

walked picket lines for justice,

children at her heels,

wrote leaflets and letters and finally checks

for the reds and rads who dreamed a better world.

In the shrunken world of her old age she wanted less,

gave up the New York Times (except the crossword),

let her morning coffee cool,

forgot her evening beer,

quit reading e-mail or answering the phone.

One night I heard her in her bed

maybe wakeful or perhaps asleep,

“All I want is a hand to hold and no bullshit.”

Mom’s long since gone on to the other side;

now she only visits when I’m dreaming. 

Or, meditating, when I hear her whisper

“No bullshit and a hand to hold.”

--Mickey Ellinger August 2013, February 2014