My father was often at a loss for words
his name – Siegfried a source of confusion,
half his friends called him Ziggy, the other half Fred.
He wasn’t worse at English than your average immigrant
but he didn’t speak as good as my mom whose English
wasn’t so great, but still she made fun of his accent.
Da dinx was his all-purpose catch phrase
which I realized years after his death meant “the things”
when Issa, my Senegalese friend said the same thing.
Bibbis was penis, popo the butt
da volks were the neighbors, landsman meant Jew.
Music was his passion with Sunday’s reserved
for the record player as he conducted the symphonies
of Mahler and Schuman as sister Susan swayed spastically
to the lilting melodies of the great composers
while I sat on the couch sucking my thumb.
My mom was more loquacious
often putting inspirational quotes –
President Kennedy, Spinoza, and Bertrand Russell
over the kitchen sink in an attempt to make her life
as a housewife in suburban NJ bearable.
When no one was around she spoke to the radio.
Susan, institutionalized since I was born
has a vocabulary of maybe 20 words:
Pot roast, rainbow cookies, cheese, nilla pudding,
Go back, Danny Boy, Mommy’s coming?
I’ll never know brother Ernst’s last words
probably spoken between the train and the gas
though I know it was German, I hope it was merciful,
if mercy is a word we can use.
Carol was an English teacher, the first high school
graduate in our family. The smart one.
She lost her ability to speak, or read the New Yorker
in her final year of life. In the end what was left to say?
The prodigal son, I fancy myself a poet,
Probably I’m delusional,
barely audible outside a small circle of friends
words, words, words….
I can’t stop