poem for god
The Woman in Silent Tears
everything beautiful bleeds
5 August 2014
Et in Arcadio Ego
David Albert Solberg
Sorry, We're Closed
Older than Our Bodies
Amorphous Object &
Sundays in Hudson
Fox and Geese
Love in Winter
David Albert Solberg
I Have Made My Own Soul Suffer
A Notice to My Mailman
The bathroom was so small that moisture lingered in its corners, leaving it perpetually damp. Often pressed down by the bathroom’s few occupants, the edges of the wallpaper curled in on themselves, but almost invariably the cerulean trim would roll back up with resilience when it felt this violation; one the victor, one resigned. The tub was rarely empty, maintaining a thin ring of foam around its basin a few inches from the bottom. Brightly colored plastic toys lined its edges with no regard to form.
The air was thick with baby smells—soaps, powder, lotion. Clean bath rose in thin, oily bubbles. The woman rubbed her hands down the warm curves of her son’s bony spine. She relaxed and shifted her weight to her lower torso, pushing her aching knees against the cool porcelain. She wiped the back of her hand across her brow, drawing the other along the water towards her son’s elbow. The young child ran his plastic tugboat over her fingers. His occasional splashes and nonsensical chatter filled the room.
At the sound of his name he lifted his eyes to hers: big blues like the deepest ocean, eyelashes curled so perfectly that the tiniest drops of water caught on the ends. Pieces of his bangs stuck wet to his forehead, the rest of his wispy duck-hair caught in foamy bubbles. She stood up, dropped the washcloth into the water.
“ I’ll be right back.”
The woman walked to her bedroom. She scanned the room but couldn’t remember what she had come in for. Eventually she drifted towards her armoire, tracing its carved side. Her bubbe had brought it to America from Europe; it was the only thing she was somehow able to salvage after the war. Sometimes, as she admired it, the woman imagined a younger version of her grandmother boarding a passenger ship with no trunk and no family—only this unwieldy armoire. When she felt the carvings, she could smell her grandmother’s old-fashioned perfume, feel her breath hot on her neck as they hugged, tightly, often for minutes at a time. She felt as if her bubbe were trying to suck all the life out of her.
The woman had kept the armoire in storage at her old apartment in Greenwich Village when she met her husband. During the sputtering last days of her second summer there, often they would stumble tipsy up the eight flights to her place, making love in the hazy heat pushed up against her kitchen counter. He’d put his face by her neck, his breath hot and quick as he traced the curves of her ear. She’d tell him how her bubbe used to hug her so strangely, wrapping her arms around her, tickling her raisin lips against her neck and breathing hot on her skin the same way he did. She demonstrated, slipping her arms under his shoulders and crossing them tightly against his bare back. She felt the bizarre eroticism of this hug burning the tips of her ears with a delightful shame, nostalgia a queer aphrodisiac. She often thought of her disintegrating, absurd Judaism during these encounters, and the sensuous nature of G-d.
She told him all about her grandmother, how she only spoke Yiddish though she understood English just fine. How she looked like an old Polish turtle with no eyes because her brows hung over them like a theater marquee. How, after the woman’s parents died, she fell asleep curled in her grandmother’s lap during the last night of Shiva, feeling comfort for the first time. How, in the lazy afternoons after school, she would sit at the kitchen table while her grandmother cooked, earning raw potato slices when she pronounced the dense Hebrew correctly out of workbooks. How, during the winter of her 12th year, her grandmother had slipped on some ice in front of their house and bit her tongue, suffocating on the lonely Brooklyn sidewalk. How she had left the woman only this armoire. When she showed him, he traced the same patterns on the door, rubbed his palm against the brass knobs. She knew then how right their parts fit together. That he saw things in the same way she did, his eyes and fingers moving with the same, long traces and curls searching patiently, earnestly.
When they asked to get married, her grandfather said no, it is kiddushin, sacred, G-d would not allow it. It was only after her belly started to swell that he acquiesced, witnessing for them at the courthouse. But afterwards, her grandfather was quiet. He no longer chastised her, whispering under his breath about her choice of clothes or friends when they visited for Shabbat on Friday. He moved restlessly between the darkened rooms of the old house, and she’d catch glimpses of him out of the corners of her eyes, standing behind the wall leading into the kitchen as he watched her read at the table. When the sun finally set he would shuffle over to his chair silently, motioning for them to begin the prayers. He died shortly thereafter, right before Michael was born, his body curled up like a dried shrimp in his bed. But she never entered his bedroom. The nurse told her that he said nothing when he died—his tongue was swollen in his mouth. He never even made a sound.
The woman left the armoire and moved towards her bed, pressing her forehead against its metal frame. Memories oozed through her veins like heavy sap. She allowed herself to fall into her bed, the sheets twisting up between her knees. As she curled into a ball, she tried to stop the heaviness from penetrating her limbs and paralyzing her. She could hear her husband’s voice filling her mind, “You’re sick and I’m tired. I need some time.” It was the last thing he said to her. When he finished packing she had asked him, “What about our son? What about Michael?”
But he said nothing and slipped out the kitchen door.
Michael prayed, or at least she believed this is what he did. Oftentimes, when she would leave him alone to play, she would return to find him sitting on his bedroom floor, hands folded and eyes shut. He was a quiet child. Sometimes he laughed or spoke a few words— hungry, mama, lights on please—but mostly he prayed. “What are you doing, Michael?” his dad once asked. “Are you praying? What do you pray about?” Michael gave him an awkward smile, turning his eyes to the ground, embarrassed even as his father embraced him.
One day after her grandfather died, the woman went to synagogue and didn’t feel right. There was a hole. It started off slowly, the size of a pinprick buried deep in her guts. At first it let in only a little: a recalcitrant inflection during morning prayer, a flicker of disdain as she arranged her scarf in the mirror and once, in the middle of a service, a brief and strangled cough as the rabbi glorified the mercy of G-d. It was quiet and natural enough, but its timing was so purposeful that the woman herself was surprised, quickly drawing a hand to her lips. This intentionality created an uneasiness in her that lasted the rest of the service and restricted her movements and words. She could feel her husband’s eyes on her, attempting to divine her half-second hesitations. He asked her about it that evening while they read side by side in bed. She said it meant nothing, but what would it matter if it had? Doubt was simply a part of faith.
But once she felt the hole, she could not unfeel it. The very awareness of it was enough that it began to carve itself a place inside of her. Soon the pinprick became a laceration, a black hole of doubt that gave way to a cruelty and coldness that was both infinite and hollow. She feared that it would swallow her alive. In the afternoons, she would feel the harshness awake as if curled in a slumber within the palms of her hands, beckoning her to her bed in the dying light of the sun. When her husband would return from work, he would sit next to her and offer his comfort. He would lay his hand gently against her side, asking questions about her day, whispering stories about work so rapidly that he sounded like a chirping bird. But his words were lost on her. Eventually he said nothing. He kept his hands away, giving her space, listening to her in this way, waiting, hoping.
She tried to keep going to synagogue. She loved prayer as a child, loved feeling the power rise up from the soles of her feet to the tip of her tongue in sticky Hebrew. She only went now so Michael could go. Since he was a newborn, he loved the smells of the elders, loved wrapping his fingers around the tips of their gray beards, the tricky lines of the Torah rising in waves. When he started walking, between fruit punch in cheap Dixie cups and hard peanut butter cookies after services, they’d pull him up into their laps and whisper secrets about G-d into his little hands. They tried to teach him Hebrew so he could pray better. “Ah-dough-NA-ee,” they’d say, and he’d laugh and hold out his palm to catch the sounds streaming from between their lips. “This boychik is special, Judy, G-d means great things for him. Watch over him.” She never did find out what secrets they whispered between his sticky fingers littered in crumbs and red dye.
She stopped going after a while. “She has lost her faith,” they’d say, and they would take Michael’s wrist and drag him away to the other bubbes. They’d give him kisses and cookies and tell him to be good to his mommy. They would look at her out of the corners of their eyes, thinking they were G-d. She could hear them when she sat in the bathroom stall, shaking from the harsh cold. She didn’t believe in G-d anymore.
Each day she would run the tap and call Michael to the bathroom. She would dip her fingertips into the warm water and he’d run a lion up her arm, chase a fire engine with a racecar around her thin wrists. She would pull him out of the tub and slide his robe over his head, blowing raspberries on his bare shoulders and smooth stomach, tickling his elbows, messing up his hair. He would run off while she cleaned the bathroom, and when she came to his room she’d find him sitting with his hands in prayer, eyes shut. She would wrap her arms around his shoulders, but he’d slip from her hands like a fish onto the ground. She would leave him until he fell asleep on the floor and she could place him in his bed.
Sometimes in the darkest parts of night, she lost track of herself and Michael. She would dream that she was awoken by wails that reverberated through the hallway and into her room. The sounds would stick in the low corners, amplified by the dense walls, smothering her as she lie helpless to them. They weren’t intelligible at first, but night after night of dreaming of suffocating underneath her white sheets, the wails became more clear and pronounced. It was Michael, crying out to her or maybe to G-d. He was praying, saying YHWH with different vowels, so forcefully, fast and full that the letters ran into each other, the words slipping into the impenetrable spaces of the in-between and flying at her. Sometimes he would quiet only to rise again like a swell, slow and unsure at first but soon he was roaring, the letters spewing out from his mouth so quickly that they were tangled, like he was trying to find the real name of G-d somehow, in the mess of things, as if it would bring them back.
The woman awoke in darkness. Her eyes were plastered shut with gooey sleep, her ears ringing from the wails that had trapped her there only seconds before. Her cotton blouse was caked to her back and underarms with a sickly sweat. She moved slowly to the side of the bed, swinging her legs over the edge. It was then that she felt it—a sudden and piercing cold tickling the back of her neck—and remembered. The woman got to her feet frantically and made her way along the wall towards the bathroom. A strip of yellow leaking from the small room painted the hallway with a sickening glow. She stumbled against the door, pushed it open and fell to the floor.
Michael, motionless on the surface of the bath like a water bug. G-d. His face, tiny wrists, feet bloated like fat, blue potatoes. G-d. His hair like plastered newspaper across the top of his soft head, his little fingers swollen, dark purple and blue. G-d. G-d. G-d. His lips stuck out like two dead fish.
The woman climbed into the bath, pulling his body up from the water, holding him in herarms. Cold water spilled from the tub as her knees pressed up against its walls and drenched the room. She brushed his hair away from his swollen eyelids, tracing the curve of his cheek and neck down to the arch of his tiny thumb. She felt the words rising from the soles of her feet, the prayer swollen in her throat. The “yah” ached to be pushed out against her tongue, the “weh” longed to touch the backs of her teeth until she could not hold it in anymore. She clutched her son to her chest and soaked the rest of the room in prayer.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Bridget Hansen is a senior at the University of Illinois at Chicago double majoring in anthropology and classical studies with a minor in history. She plans to pursue a PhD in cultural anthropology after graduation, focusing on capitalism and the disenfranchised in both the United States and Egypt. She also loves reading, theater, playing the clarinet and writing short stories, essays, letters and plays.