My mother and father, Eva and Harry Klepetar (1947)
My mother died on September 10, 2016. She had quite a life – born in Graz, Austria in 1917, where her father was stationed in the Austrian medical corps, she grew up in Prague between the wars. She and her mother were sent to Terezin in 1942, and then to Auschwitz, where her mother perished, in 1944. My mother survived, joined my father, who was a refugee in Shanghai, and then immigrated to the U.S. and made a life there, with a husband, a son, and a wide circle of friends. She had two grandsons she loved dearly and four great-granddaughters she cherished. Here are three poems about her:
(Note: mit Schlag means with whipped cream, which, with her cake was really gilding the lily).
My father sheds cigar ash, clears his throat.
Krapetzing, my mother calls it, and I shudder
in my book, pleasure mixing with disgust.
I’m eighteen, reading the Bhagavad-Gita.
My father reads The Age of Reason,
Will and Ariel Durant. The Doors moan
over the F.M. “This is the end, my only friend,
the end.” My father puffs, puzzled.
Sein Lieblingslied,” my mother explains,
“His favorite song.” She bakes Apfel Torte,
blends flour, eggs, sugar, milk with expert’s
hasteless speed, lays in the thick and pungent
applesauce, vanishes in the hot scent of cake.
That night I dream of the Buddha, lotus-legged
beneath a Banyan tree, fasting day after long day.
Timid girls lay a curry at His feet. His smile
bathes them with light, but He touches nothing.
They bring a small bowl of rice.
Again the Buddha smiles and will not eat.
Mother strides to Him smiling like a hostess,
offers on a white fluted dish the fresh baked
Apfel Torte, its vapors a trail of delight.
“Apfel Torte? He asks, eyes grateful,
like a stranger come upon a landsman bearing
sweet, familiar gifts, His German plainly
Viennese. “Jetzt warm,” she says, “Still warm,”
cuts a large, pale yellow slice. The Buddha
eats two, mit Schlag, ends with a sliver, plain.
I wake to the tread of heavy steps,
my father in the kitchen snitching Apfel
Torte. I pour the milk, we sit together
at the table, our plates filling with golden crumbs
My Mother Has Purple Hair
It explodes from her small head in forks
of lightning glowing violet at the tips.
She bends from high clouds, clenched
center of black knuckles
like some smooth section of rainbow
across an empty
patch of sky. She has become
a meteorological event.
The National Weather Service
she leaves radar
prints larger than El Nino's.
My mother is more spectacular than the Northern Lights.
In her wrinkled hands she bears the Bischoff's Brot
she baked me
clotted with red, green and yellow bits of dried fruit
and tiny cones of chocolate.
Weather systems swirl around her kitchen.
Whenever she bakes, it rains
and drops fall and shatter on the streets
like colored glass.
Her cake is pale gold, like wheat in sunlight.
It smells like the passing of a storm.
My mother's eyes are green
and her hair, purple. Her friends have blue
hair or hair the color of carrot scrapings, or scarlet hair.
The grow in my mind's garden, strange dahlia's
blossoming on dry stalks.
(Author’s Note: Bischoff’s Brot literally means “Bishop’s Bread;” as you can tell from context, it is a kind of fruitcake. My wife and sons wouldn’t touch it, but I loved it, and she always brought me one when she came to visit).
Once my mother talked about how her parents
called her and her sister by their middle names.
She was Elizabeth Eva, her sister Maria Gertrude,
but they were always known as Eva and Traute.
I pointed out that she had done exactly
the same with me, named me Frank Steven,
but only used my middle name.
“That was because of Franklin Delano Roosevelt.”
“Yeah,” I answered, “but it’s still the same thing,
a kind of family tradition. You named me Frank
but called me Steve, which is really my middle name.”
She looked at me for a long moment, studying
my face as if to see some sign of incipient idiocy.
“What did you want me to do, call you Roosevelt?”
(Author’s note: This is true, word for word. I have three witnesses.)
My mother with two of her great-grandchildren
©2016 Steve Klepetar
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