Rhyme of My Inheritance (audio only)

Joan Larkin

 

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Afterlife

I’m older than my father when he turned
bright gold and left his body with its used-up liver
in the Faulkner Hospital, Jamaica Plain.  I don’t 
believe in the afterlife, don’t know where he is 
now his flesh has finished rotting from his long 
bones in the Jewish Cemetery—he could be the only 
convert under those rows and rows of headstones.  
Once, washing dishes in a narrow kitchen 
I heard him whistling behind me.  My nape froze.  
Nothing like this has happened since.  But this morning 
we were on a plane to Virginia together.  I was 17, 
pregnant and scared.  Abortion was waiting, 
my aunt’s guest bed soaked with blood, my mother 
screaming—and he was saying Kids get into trouble—  
I’m getting it now: this was forgiveness.
I think if he’d lived he’d have changed and grown
but what would he have made of my flood of words			
after he’d said in a low voice as the plane
descended to Richmond in clean daylight
and the stewardess walked between the rows
in her neat skirt and tucked-in blouse
Don’t ever tell this to anyone.

The Combo

In barlight alchemized: gold pate, the bellmouth
tenor, liquor trapped in a glass. The e-flat
clarinet chases time, strings shudder,
remembering the hundred tongues. Here comes old
snakeshine, scrolls stored in the well, here comes
the sobbing chazzan. O my lucky uncle,
you've escaped the Czar's army. Thunder
is sweet. Here comes the boink, boink bossa
nova slant of light. Snow-dollars
dissolve on a satin tongue. The river
swells green, concrete trembles, and we
sweat, leaning toward mikes and wires
as the last tune burns down to embers. Ash-
whispers. We were born before we were born.

Flesh

Hooves were forbidden, but she fed us			               

stringy liver, thick tongue, gray kishkes 						

crammed with something soft. She had a bulb	         

of garlic, a handful of salt, some wretched carrots.       

Drew out blood with salt, clamped her grinder 

and fed chunks into it and forced them down.        

She let me turn the crank, and red worms      	

fell to the bowl. I ate according to the Law             	

and the cow's flesh became my flesh. 	   		

Now I lower my head to eat, moan when I wake 	

from the fear dream, the one where we shove 		

one another down the ramp toward the violent 

stench and the boy's knife. He lifts his arm

in a rhythm I've always known.