“They are gone, the pepper trees,
the tiny buds of phosphorus.”
–Federico Garcia Lorca
She spoke with a Hungarian accent, her speech
bordered on vines and blue forget-me-nots
dropped her w’s in soft cushions beneath my feet,
took a bowl of oatmeal for breakfast with cottage cheese.
Mid-morning she drank orange pekoe tea in a glass,
prunes and pears spiked with cloves,
anointed herself in the mirror with 4711 cologne.
She knew what she liked and I liked everything she did,
walked with her head held high, a person of carriage
who twisted her chestnut hair into a chignon
caught with a tortoise shell or silver comb.
She bought fabric to create her own clothes,
nubs of wool–purple, rust, and forest green,
an oil landscape lined in pure silk.
She painted her canvases wearing overalls,
but not on Shabbos when she folded
a napkin on her head,
paper peaks making her look stylish,
singing evening prayers along the tops
of burning candles whose lights she gathered
along the oaken leaf of a table.
She stored her paintings in the back of Uncle Harry’s
Brooklyn shoe shop and took us to see her studio,
brushes listing in glass jars like spent soldiers,
the smell of oil paint and charcoal that coated
her nails in a fine dust. I remember how she held
a stick of charcoal between two fingers,
drew to the edge of a paper and stopped.
But mostly, I see her sitting on a rock near Dudley Pond Farm,
our refuge from the Bronx summer,
her breasts released to the open air
and into her palms like two doves
rescued from the afternoon heat
as she gathered her breasts to her mouth,
kissed the pointed tip of each one.
–for Aunt Jeanette