Chesed Shel Emeth

by Rebecca Pittel

Two years after we bury Papa,
in the summer, we return
and I watch my mother whisper
to a polished slab
of rock and place smooth stones and
clots of earth along its edge, as if
to dangle bait above the surface
of a frozen lake, willing it
to thaw. Chesed Shel Emeth,
the cemetery’s name, means
the grace of truth or its
compassion, lightness carried forth
on a solidity, the empty
space inside the gravestone name, carved
out of marble, filled invisibly
with autumn air.
Forty years ago she read Flaubert
and economics, unaware
her mother’s tissue
grew malignant stones inside it.
Not to tell her was her parents’
silent chesed, one with which
I cannot reckon, a rock
that rents my breath as I attempt to cast it
to my mother
on a hockey field.
Go home, I cry, she’s dying,
and the sounds
bounce from the goalposts as she laughs
at something nearer and dis
regards the echoes
of my words.
Across the field a thousand tombstones,
like the hundred-plus knocked down
last weekend
in U. City
in an act that stings of hate, a word
no one in power
will assign it, lacking time,
preferring silence
to the rightful
Two years after, Mom moves home
to see her mother go.
For years of shabbos dinners
at their grandmother’s, my aunt
declines to eat. Self-sacrifice, of spirit
and of body, in my family:
women’s obligation. My mother
runs for hours round a track and practices
arpeggios on her cello while her psyche
crystallizes frozen lakes on which her thoughts
loop, spin, and twist, and never
the surface.
Now stones lie sideways in the graveyard
(few are fractured): Levy, Levistein
and Levin. I imagine
all the daughters like my mother
flying to U. City, righting fathers
and their mothers, placing pebbles
on the edges they remember
of their lineage.
As the dusk light settles on my mother,
I listen to her speak to rock like flesh:
chesed commanded of the daughter
by an emeth in the cold earth
I can’t see.
“We’re going row
by row, stone
by stone,” the graveyard
manager assures. “These families need
to know.”
My mother, kneeling
down before the hard name of her father;
a smooth stone resting weightless
in my palm.
The glints of light
upon the lake which start
to melt the frost.