Just yesterday, at a shiva, my cousin
Suzie told me poetry’s her thing.
She loves whimsy. You wouldn’t know it,
but she’s a whimsy-kind-of-girl.
She wrote a series of poems about moonlight
dancing on her bedroom floor
until her teacher tore them apart—
told her to write what she knew.
But that’s what she knew. So she wrote
about which she knew nothing—a nun,
who dies as her cross slithers through
her mangled fingers. Her teacher loved it.
That’s when her father, Isaac—91—now
my oldest living relative, chimed in to say
he’s a lover of poetry, too. His wife, Bess,
turned him on to it. “Epithalamion”—
she lived her life by it. He closed his eyes
and said the whiles doe ye this song
unto her sing. But for Uncle Isaac, it was,
and still is, “If.” He didn’t quote from it.
He shrugged the kind of shrug
that says as if I know.
And on the car ride home, my mother
told me how his son had died at twenty-one,
and I wondered which if had most moved
Isaac—the one that asks if you can
never breathe a word about your loss?
This article originally appeared in The New Criterion, Volume 32 Number 2, on page 33
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