Rosemary Cappello

PATRIOTA

Sid spoke English eloquently,

Yiddish fluently,

wasn’t bad at Russian,

spoke French like a native,

and dabbled in Italian, Spanish,

and Greek.

 

Mike the tailor, who had a little shop

at the end of a dead end street in

Center City, used to get a kick out of Sid.

If anyone else was in the store, he’d say,

“Listen to him – Jewish boy, speaks Italian!”

 

Then there was the owner of the Greek

restaurant at 5th & South.

Sid always greeted him with

“Patriota!” and they’d exchange

a few Greek words.

 

A year after Sid’s death, I find myself

on South Street and want to have

dinner in Patriota’s.  I walk by first,

hesitant, wondering if I can take it,

eat in one of our favorite restaurants again,

near the place where we met, in the

neighborhood that held so many memories

for Sid, being his birthplace and his

lifelong stomping ground.

 

Souvlaki and the scent of Sid’s favorite coffee

lure me in.

 

Patriota doesn’t recognize me and I hardly

recognize him.  He is thinner, older, maybe even

older than Sid was.  I smile wanly at him, wanting to say,

“Remember the man who called you `Patriota'”?

But I remain silent.  

 

“Table for one?” he asks, and I nod yes.

After dinner, on the way out, I am determined

I will speak with Patriota as Sid used to.

 

I will say, “Remember Sid?

Jewish boy, spoke Greek?  You knew each other

a long, long time?  Well, he died last year.”

 

But I can’t inflict that cruelty on him.

 

I decide to let Patriota wonder, as he must sometime,

whatever happened to Sid.  Let him think that

maybe Sid moved to Florida,

or Arizona,

or even California.  Let him ask himself,

could Sid have died?  And answer to himself,

Nah!  He’s too healthy, too full of life.

 

MY NEW LIFE

 

Nine and a half months of

mourning

 

I could have a two week old

self by now,

 

but the gestation

of a new me

seems to be taking

longer than usual.

 

Maybe it will take two and a half

years, the gestation period of

the elephant, who never forgets.

 

GOODBYE KISSES

 

When I was with Sid and had to leave to

go out, we would kiss goodbye and I’d

walk out the door and then I’d run

back in again and kiss him again.

 

This would amuse him.  Sometimes

I went back more than once for one

more hug, one more kiss,

 

and I’d say “I miss you.”  “But

we’re still together,” he’d protest.

“But I miss you in advance.”

 

How silly we were.  Sometimes he

used that old Groucho Marx joke.

When I’d say, “Come closer,” he’d

say, “If I came any closer, I’d

be on the other side.”

 

We both had our quirks – he loved to

quote what he called juvenilia and I

couldn’t get enough of goodbye kisses,

except on the day he died, I didn’t

run back for a second kiss, a third.

On the day he died,

I had no feeling of foreboding.

 

EASIER IN THE BEGINNING

 

It’s easier in the beginning.

You won’t think so,

because you won’t be able to eat or sleep,

you’ll lose weight, and when you look

in the mirror, you’ll see someone with

a gaunt and grief-stricken face, for

you’ll look the same way you feel.

 

Still, it’s easier in the beginning because

people send you flowers and cards and they

hug you a lot.  They often say all the

wrong things but it doesn’t matter

because at least they’re saying something.

 

What makes it easier in the beginning

is all those hugs and a strange thing that

happens to your memory—it gets dim.

 

As the months pass, time, which is supposed to

heal, slowly returns the sharpness of

remembrance, and everything reminds you

of him,

 

such as the dishes he bought you

because they were special—

 

his paintings hanging on the wall—

 

his sculpture, blocking the way to the window—

 

the furniture he made for you—

 

the smell of garlic—

 

the recipe for borscht.

 

At breakfast, you hear echoes of his

voice saying, how he loved to sit

across the table from you.

 

Now, you squeeze your own juice and

stew your own prunes, things he, who

pampered you, used to do.

 

Sometimes you’ll walk around your apartment

cursing.

 

Sometimes you feel as if you have the

pain he felt as his heart gave way

in that last moment.

 

It’s so much easier

in the beginning

because your survival instinct keeps you going,

as you drive alone through the hills of Manayunk

and keep up the car payments.

 

It gets harder because you don’t want to be

alone anymore, but you don’t want to be with

just anyone; you want him back. That’s when

you remember exactly where he is now

and you know that is impossible.

 
Rosemary Cappello is an artist and poet. She is the editor of Philadelphia Poets.

 

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