Symbolism Sucks

Today was the anniversary of my dad’s death, according to the Hebrew calendar. So last night I lit my first yahrtzeit candle. I watched my dad light one for his father every year. For some reason, it was one of those things I never imagined I’d have to do. I knew I’d one day learn to drive, one day get married, and one day have children (one day soon, hopefully!). But not this.

The special memorial candle Jews light for their deceased loved ones (parents, siblings, spouse, and children) lasts for 24 hours. I was surprised to learn that you don’t say a prayer when you light it (and Jews love us some prayers), so K and I shared memories instead. It has looked like four in the afternoon all day today, and the cold rain, which was rudely spitting at us before, is now coming down without pause. I’m sitting quietly in my dining room, listening to the sound of the rain and watching as the flame flickers out the candle’s last hour of life.

I hate this.

I hate that I didn’t get to spend more of my adult life with my dad. That he won’t get to meet my child and vice-versa. That I have to watch this fucking candle burn out. It’s the end of my year of mourning, and I don’t feel healed, moved on, or through anything. This weather so doesn’t help.

So I wrote a poem because that’s something I used to do a lot more of and something my dad liked a lot. This poem screams of regret, but that’s only one small part of my sadness. He was such a phenomenal guy. I look forward to when I can get past the self-pity and write a poem about that.

Would That You Were

Here in body and in mind
(not my DNA or memory
but your own and in your prime)
you offer to make us eggs
And we know this means much more
To you eggs include bananas
rice and garlic scrambled—
an ambiguous concoction, a yearning
for some distant experience

Taste this ripe persimmon
you say, flesh in your teeth
juice collecting in the hairs
above your knuckles
And we know we should want this—
your desperate, delicious connection
so sticky and primal

Is it enough to try the kumquat?
Its bitter rind bearable
for the reward of a tart center
I prefer the loquats
you bring in by the bowl
We flock to you for the fullness
of its soft consistent sweetness

You ask who will join you
for a time in the Jacuzzi
ready in your soaked trunks
to get back in with company
We, so rapt by the reruns,
do not see the chlorine-rimmed
and hope-filled eyes
Our replies shoot over our shoulders
so we do not we miss anything

Would that you were here
I’d be in the water and ask you
to read me horrible jokes
from your Reader’s Digest
And at the sight of you rising
to the surface of the pool
I’d marvel at the volume of debris
you hold aloft like a trophy
skimmed from its bottom
then hold my breath
as you go back under

Thanks for reading everyone.

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9 Responses to “Symbolism Sucks”


  1. 1 Amy Watson November 18, 2010 at 12:17 am

    <3<3<3
    i can relate to so many of your feelings, but have never been able to express my grief as beautifully as you have here!

  2. 2 angela November 18, 2010 at 12:24 am

    Your poem is beautiful, Malka. It made me so sad. I”m sorry you are going through this. I know I have a different set of experiences, but I know how you feel to an extent. I think it’s a myth that loss ever goes away or gets easier; it just sort of sits there with you and you get used to looking at it, I think. Anyway, we love you and are thinking of you.

  3. 3 Kristy November 18, 2010 at 12:42 am

    I keep trying to make sense of this year of mourning; it seems like the shock is just starting to wear off and the pain of mourning has been incredibly present as we’ve circled back around to this anniversary. Your dad was so full of life—and so in love with it—that his death feels like an unsuitable ending to his life. (You know what I mean.)

    It’s a wonderful thing to have so many happy, funny memories of your dad. You see your mom showing up in yourself a lot, but your dad is there too—in your looks and in your spirit. I feel his presence and see pieces of him coming through you often. Minus the thick accent and the love of calamari.

  4. 4 Calli November 18, 2010 at 12:57 am

    Love you! Thinking of you and kristy!!

  5. 5 Tonya November 18, 2010 at 3:52 am

    Amazing. Incredibly moving, Malk.

  6. 6 John November 18, 2010 at 2:20 pm

    Good Grief. Who ever thought up THAT juxtaposition of words? Grief is one of those elemental itches begging to be scratched. It really wants to be thought through, even if there is no “through,” there’s just “inside.”

    It reminds me of a monk who told me about doing homework assigned by his abbot. He had to write a paper about The Desert – a very important place for a monk, both geographically and as a metaphor for their interior lives at times. He wrote a paper flowing with well-written rhetoric about the lessons that can only be learned in The Desert, and romanticizing the whole idea. The abbot said, “What you forget is that the desert cannot support life. You die in the desert.” (Obviously he had never been to Santa Fe, but you get his point.)

    What we sometimes forget, when theorizing about death, is that it hurts, and how much. All the rest is just trying to get a grip on the changing or persistent or unsupportable nature of that pain. Thanks for the reminder. Peace to you.

  7. 7 Megan November 18, 2010 at 5:26 pm

    I cannot know what you feel, but I can say that I (and many others) have been down this same path. It does get easier, Malka, but it never goes away. For me, I don’t want it go away, because I do not want to forget.

    Thank you for sharing yourself and your art with us. Beautiful.

  8. 8 vicki arnold November 18, 2010 at 8:26 pm

    Dearest Malka,
    Thank you for sharing this heartfelt poem which you wrote remembering your wonderful Dad.
    I know somewhat what you are going through, but I could never express my deep feelings like you did.
    The good thing, as more time goes by, is that your Dad is always in your heart. He is always with you. I don’t think the hurt goes away.
    That is what I have found.

    I send my love to you and Kristy.
    Vicki

  9. 9 Veronica November 24, 2010 at 7:53 pm

    Dear Malka,
    Your poem is beautiful and heartfelt. It is such a blessing to be able to express your feelings as you do. The last verse of the poem took my breath away.
    The jewish tradition of lighting a candle is a beautiful symbolic ritual, albiet painful and sorrowful. There is a deep hole ripped away when a special soul passes away from us. The grieving process is life long because there is a piece of you that is now gone, but you can build on the torn edges with remembrance and light.
    Thank you for sharing your feelings and thoughts.
    much much love to you and kristi,
    veronica


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