On Your 87th Birthday


I want to forge ahead, passport to laughter and adventure in hand, 

and I want to walk slowly and clasp the past to my chest 

and share it all with your grandchildren, 

not losing any detail amidst the packing boxes.


They conflict, you know, 

outside of the Venn overlap of you telling me to get it done

and take care of myself,

in the space of tears which stop me now immobile on your gold velvet couch 

with the pattern of raised rectangles which mesmerizes as I trace it with my fingers

while I sit and look at your once unchanging living room 

that now holds only a couch, armchair, rug, 

marks on the floor where bookcases stood 40 years, and so many boxes of books.

I look out and see back, 

recalling the countless dinner parties and seders, 

grandchildren’s dance parties and Dad’s wedding couples

all that this room welcomed with elegance and comfortable formality.


Growing up,

this couch didn’t matter much to my existence,

but right now I hold onto it with the grasp of a mountain climber 

determined not to fall and crash into emotional rocks.. 

Right now my prevailing feeling is empty

like this house which I enter ambivalently to pack

to move parts half-way across the country 

to the house you helped me unpack 20 years ago

near to where you lived after the War.

I embrace that empty, 

knowing that what I tell others in a work day speaks to me too:

I need to walk through that shadowed valley,

I need to cry,

I need to sit on the couch stuck if that’s what I can do..

But I want to push the empty far away too,

as I look around at the ever diminishing house.

not wanting to acknowledge deeper layers 

of the bare walls and echoing rooms 

of a full house in which you helped me raise my children.


Funny thing, since I didn’t grow up here, 

and never felt attached to the structure you and Dad loved.

I still laugh remembering 

when Dad tried to surprise me the sophomore home for Thanksgiving

entering our old house.

Did he really think I’d not notice the fridge was gone? 

He was so proud of that!

But, for my children, this house was different.

You and Dad made sure your grandchildren entered to hugs & art,

toys and books, countless Town Hall sandwiches and boxes of mac.

Here they found favorite places, recipes, and typewriters,

took long baths and showers, and hung out with your friends, 

They curled up with books on that couch 

and watched Food Network in your bed.


“What happens when the house is no more?” they ask. 

“That’s our place.”

“I don’t know,” I tell my children,

“but we’ll figure it out.”

I guess I will.

I mean, sure, I figure everything out in the end.


Curious that these many weeks a year in your house 

felt to me like a pittance, always insufficient.

But I see now 

that for the three teaching, reading souls I birthed

this house built their creative souls and sense of history

and holds them with hugs and wisdom as you did, always.


What happens now? 

I’ll get off the couch and unpack the boxes.

We will travel forward, I am certain, but

with what loss of space for creative calm;

with that loss of memory brought by pictures on the fridge,

charoset and frogs on the dining room table;

with what loss of reminders to chew with our mouths closed,

line up the flatware, and not whip the cream too much;

with that loss of pure play on the front lawn, slippin’ and sliding,

fun-a-bun twins construction, and painting on house walls;

with what loss of elegance and instant access to Tate’s cookies 

in the drawer with the metal slide top;

with that loss of book recommendations and mysterious treasures

of red-and-blue colored pencils, long gowns and Navy uniforms

found in desk drawer and cedar closet;

with what loss of growing legs sprawled on the couch 

and brown chairs as I pack for the pool;

with that loss of singing in the basement, 

lighting Shabbat candles and eating Arturo’s on the tablecloth from Provence

under your timeless midcentury chandelier;

with what loss of your delighted smile as we walk in the door

and said “I’m so happy you are here!”

with that loss of you.


I will get off the couch, 

but, right now I want to sit longer,

clasp the memories to my chest,

and take it all in, absorbing the history by osmosis 

from the couch cushions of my life.

I sit here and hear your voice 

with always the right amount of instruction

like you gave kindergarteners.

You’re saying: “Finish the job.

Don’t keep too much and clutter your house.

Unpack the boxes quickly at home.

And, please, don’t stay up too late.”

What I don’t yet hear but know you’d say

is that we’ve been making memory with your grandchildren all along ;

I need to trust that they already hold it close.


I want to hear one more thing

before I leave this house:

What you said last summer,

when your memory peeked out

to tell a granddaughter before a far-off journey:

Have a great trip!

I want to hear you say that now.

I want to forge ahead, passport to laughter and adventure in hand, 

I’m trying, clasping the past to my chest as I do,

trying to share it all with your grandchildren,

and listening for your voice

as I get up off the couch 

and walk from this house