I am the author of four prize-winning books of poetry, including The Royal Baker’s Daughter, winner of the Felix Pollak Poetry Award. My most recent book is Scorched by the Sun, translations of poems by the Israeli poet Moshe Dor. The recipient of two National Endowment for the Arts poetry fellowships as well as awards in translation, fiction and speechwriting, I am Series Editor of the Word Works’ International Editions. Please visit my website, www.barbaragoldberg.net.
Our Lady of Perpetual Surprise is how
she looked after she had her eyelids
lifted. Who is this stranger I must
be kind to? Where is the dark one
who couldn't feed me? She went under
the knife and dyed her hair blonde.
After a splendid day at the beach
he dropped dead in the hall, she
in the kitchen saran-wrapping coldcuts.
The next year she spent looped
on pep-up pills, playing duplicate bridge,
traversing the distance between them
that way. I crept down to rec rooms
foraging for crumbs from pimply-faced
boys, their clumsy tongues. Surfacing
for air, I too smelled of Old Spice.
I was a stitch in her side, a splinter,
a thorny reminder. I was her darling,
her liebchen, her sweetie pie. Oh Mother,
what big eyes you have, and wide.
Pretty Stories, Funny Pictures
When my mother dies I will not
visit her grave. No matter where
she makes her final bed, the plot
my father saved for her, or cramped
beside her beloved. She's already left
me my inheritance, those grisly tales
which steel the heart--Struwwelpeter
who lost his thumb, the one he sucked
(as I did mine) to the natty tailor
tiptoeing at night with giant shears.
Or the matchstick girl who refused
to eat and let her hair grow wild.
Ravens nested there. I was the obedient
child. But when she dies the truth
will out. I am her daughter. I won't
visit. I will be otherwise engaged.
for Miroslav Holub
He ran experiments on nude mice, testing
the workings of the thymus, how the body
adjusts to heat and cold. He bred them
too, although he couldn't use the females
to nurse because young ones need fur
to get a grip. I asked if mice knew
when they were nude, picturing my dog
cringing under the kitchen table
when I trim her for the summer, and how
sheep bolt and duck when they are shorn.
He was a scientist. He didn't take
the question lightly. "I doubt," he said,
"they know they're mice." Nude,
he'd said, not furless or hairless
or bald, as though they wore clothes
they could remove at night and felt
shame. Like that time at Crystal Lake
we campers (all prepubescent girls)
were treated to a skinny dip on the Fourth.
All ran in and splashed with great abandon,
all, that is, except for me, mummy wrapped
in garish beach towel. And must you know
what you are to know you're nude? Mice
don't know they're mice and I didn’t know what
I was hiding or hiding from, but something
must have been stripped from me
and I couldn't bear to have it rubbed in.
All these poems appeared in The Royal Baker’s Daughter (Felix Pollak Poetry Prize, University of Wisconsin Press).
©2015 Barbara Goldberg