I watch my husband rip apart a bag of frozen blueberries
that roll into the freezer bin, and onto the floor, his slippered feet
squashing them—splotches of berry juice on the tiled floor
and in the grout. Like the blood my father saw running
between the cobblestones of his city with the statue of the tsar.
I think of my father, only four, shivering in the Black Forest,
the stench of his burning village in his nose, his throat,
my father with his mother and four sisters. His five older brothers
murdered in the pogrom. His father in a windowless room
over a butcher shop in the Bronx, candling eggs, holding them
up to the flame to check for blood spots to save passage
for his family to come to America. My father, his sisters,
his mother, surviving on roots and berries,
their lips and bowels blue from berries.
My husband, raised on stories of his namesake who survived Auschwitz,
would never show weakness. Before dawn, he drove an hour
to his pharmacy in torrents, blizzards, blackouts, and came home
sixteen hours later, sometimes returning in the middle of the night
when there was a break-in. “People need their medicine,” he insisted.
My husband, robbed five times at gunpoint, my husband who wrestled
a man wielding a knife, spent five months in a “care facility”
where he was allotted invalid portions. My food packages disappeared.
I couldn’t visit because of Covid. He was sequestered with a roommate
who could only blink. I stood on the sidewalk waving up at him
in his second-story window, his face, wraithlike.
“Don’t bring him home,” doctors warned.
“He’s a fall risk, addled, helpless. He could set a fire.”
He taught himself to walk again with a rolling walker,
toilet himself with a urinal, that hissing pot of gold.
But he forgets the word scissors or what he did a moment ago.
What he doesn’t forget is hunger that stays on his skin like a blue tattoo.
Now I berry-pick in our kitchen, whisking berries from the dark
beneath the fridge with a yardstick. While I mop every drop of berry blood,
I miss my husband as he was when we knelt, thigh to thigh
in the strawberry patch, pushing aside the crowns of tooth-edged leaves
with their silky under-hairs to reach close to the roots, twisting the stems
gently to get the berries off. Only a few of his were bruised.
About the Author
Rochelle Jewel Shapiro’s novel, Miriam the Medium (Simon & Schuster, 2004), was nominated for the Harold U. Ribelow Award. She has published essays in NYT (Lives) and Newsweek. Her poetry, short stories, and essays have appeared or are forthcoming in many literary magazines such as After the Pause, Brushfire, Figure 1, The Midwest Quarterly, Mudlark, Packingtown Review, Westview, The Doctor T.J. Eckleburg Review, Frontier Poetry, Stand, Cider Press Review, Doubly Mad, Evening Street Review, Inkwell Magazine, Bayou Magazine, Crack the Spine, Controlled Burn, Flights, Glint Literary Journal, Grub Street, I-70 Review, Los Angeles Review, East Jasmine Review, The Virginia Normal, The MacGuffin, Moment, Rougarou, Penumbra, Amoskeag, Pennsylvania English, Rio Grande Review, Rogue Agent, Seven Circle Press: A Literary Micropress, Steam Ticket, Swamp Ape Review, Whistling Shade, Gulf Coast, Passager, Moria Literary Magazine, Sanskrit Magazine, The Literary Nest, Willow Review, and Sweet: A Literary Confection, among others. Her poetry has been nominated twice for the Pushcart Prize, she won the Branden Memorial Literary Award from Negative Capability, and Spry Magazine nominated her poem for the Best of the Net. She currently teaches writing at UCLA Extension.