The bonsai I bought at home market is designated for my son to care for. It sits by the window garnering light, winter light, there will be a storm. The woman I bought it from at Home Depot was concerned about me. She asked my name. We had similar birthdays. She remarked that I was up pretty early. In fact, there were only two other cars in the parking lot. I said yes, I like to get up early to meditate. The clerks in the store were cordial, they smiled. I told the woman, a Black women with a lovely demeanor, a kind smile, that I was going to synagogue later that morning. We shared similar birthdays.
Then I returned to the car, turned the key in the ignition, and drove to a breakfast place. I was avoiding my husband, who is an abuser. I was driving the way a sane woman of states of bliss drives with no one else on the road, this winter light flooding the avenue. I was thinking of my son, far away, and a prayer I would say with an individual of courage. No blessings came to me, but the bonsai, of course, was for my son far away.
I do not know how to cry. Sometimes I take long walks, and almost cry – a tear or two down my cheek. I am told this is because of the years of criticism, often about the way I did the dishes, or how I ran the faucet, or how I missed the dust balls on the floor. A sarcastic name was given to me - “Oblivia.” My name is Angelica. I must be taught to cry again, as the light snow falls, and as I read a poem by a woman: “Majestic insects buzz through the sky/bearing us pompously from love to love, grief to grief...Solemn filaments, our journeyings/wind through the overcast.” Of course, its my teacher Dennie calling. She saying, “write, sing, write, work for justice, write. Write more, write.”
I was once, many years ago, taking my son for a ride in a rowboat. He was 7 years old. As I rowed, I sang a song to him, “My Favorite Things”, but with the improvisational lilt of Coltrane. We rowed towards an island in the middle of the mirror surface that caught the ocher sun, and there was a small tree, like a bonsai, on which was poised a heron. I continued to sing, rowing him back to the sandy beach. I continue to sing, anyway.
I continue to sing, and I suppress memories. The memory of vacuuming, and being beaten down with words for the way I held the vacuum. The memory of being put into Fireside Lodge, because I was communing with my father who passed, who is still a ball player in heaven, a short stop. Pink slipped into the institution because I bought a book of Jewish melodies, a paper cut from Jerusalem which read “Those who have saved one life, it as if they had saved the world.” And the policemen coming to the home, telling me to leave the bottle of wine, that they'd hand cuff me in front of my son, if I didn't come. Policemen called by my husband, who had taken a vow to save life?
The memory of walking down the hallway, blessing a woman with a ravaged face who held a broken doll, letting the night nurse know my roommate was sleep walking, and unsafe. Watercolors with the quotes from the psalms, and the locked ward, because I refused to take medicine, and the card game with my mother, who talked me into it, she being a hidden actress of great talent, so low key, tossing the cards, because if I didn't, I'd lose my son.
There were roses in my room. I kept blowing on them, and they remained vital. A nurse told me, the roses are so beautiful. So I kept playing my flute near them, and they didn't fade. I remember a social worker coming into the room – I didn't want to talk to her, hid in the closet, thinking. When she knocked on the closet, I said I had been rehearsing, rehearsing for a comedy. She laughed. I had my flute, they didn't take it away that time, and I played, and the flowers continued to thrive. Once, I had it almost right. The door was open a crack, I knew someone had left it open, and almost slipped out, to freedom and a walk in the night down the road to my house 3 miles away. But a night guard with an amber beard named Michael caught me, just before I escaped into the hall, down the institutional green stairs.
My brother came, and, again,my mother, and the nurse remarked on what a wonderful family I had, warm, as the kids with drug problems played chess in the open waiting room, and an adolescent with long black hair and earrings in her nose drew intricate pen and ink sketches. My brother had a party to go to, with a friend of his, a woman, who had AIDS. He was going to go on the march with her, he was going to go to a party. I wanted to go, and asked him to sign me out, asked him and my mother to vouch for me, to get me out, but he talked with the psychiatrist. I needed to take the medicine, was much more intense but still myself, much more intense and angry, but still myself. So at that time I cried, leaning my head against my brother's shoulder. And then he left for the party.
He, my husband, when we were dating, would climb into the apartment from the back window. He scared my roommates, college students in Boston with part-time jobs. I had the small potato growing on the back porch. I lived in a room without a door, with a curtain instead. I played the flute in a dulcimer band with bongos and a cello. Curly-haired angelic young men who got drunk and had garlic hanging from their lamps. He, my future husband, took my virginity. He took it – he said “you are my woman and I love you.” He coaxed me onto the handle-bars of a bike, said “Ride with me to my place in Cambridge, it will be okay.” So in the dark moist air going down Mt. Auburn Street a motorcycle came. The driver didn't see us. I didn't see him – thrown through the air all I saw was sparks and total darkness. And then I was at Mt. Auburn hospital and the doctor was telling me ice packs, and rotate my arm. My elbow was broken.
But he had taken my virginity. So I married him. I was a nice girl from Jersey. Then there was the apartment in Cambridge, where he was alternatively good to me, cooking, and then criticizing for the way I didn't clean the floor. There were the guinea pigs in the basement, “Harvey” and “Agammenon.” The guy came to read the meters. He saw them running on the dirt floor of the basement, and threw a brick. He thought they were rats. So there was the fish store for the Puerto Ricans in East Cambridge, where we got the porgies. And there was the abortion. He wanted it bad. He wanted sex without a rubber, and so the IUD. The IUD where a cold doctor abused me when he shoved it in. And it failed, ultimately. And I became pregnant. And guess what.
And guess what. An abortion. So then I came back, lay down for about 2 hours. Got up and started doing the dishes. And he came into the kitchen wearing a scowl, a sneer. He banged a pot on the stove and said “This pot wasn't cleaned. Look, there's lentil soup still on the bottom, you burned it. You have to turn it off before you burn the bottom.” And I was doing the dishes. As I was doing them, my husband came over and stood behind me. “You're using up too much water” he said. “Turn off the spigot.” So I tried to turn it off really fast. But he said “You're doing it wrong. Here, let me do it.” So I had to step out of the way and he did a dish and said “When you place it on the rack don't just put the dishes in randomly, do it in a way that is orderly.” So then I was washing a fork, and he said, “You are using too much water.” And then I was doing the pan in which I had cooked the eggs. Again he said, “You have to run hot water in it right away. Look, you let it soak. Don't let it soak, wash it with hot water right away, so it gets clean. But don't use up any water.” So I carefully left, and went into the dining room, and let him finish things up.
So then I went back into the kitchen and started sweeping the floor. He came over and put his hand on my ass. And patted it. He said, “Don't you want to dally?” So I felt I had to say yes, because we were married and we weren't living in the house anymore with all the guys and all the drugs, those who watched Star Trek every night and the cats, “White Ears” and “Black Ears”, sleeping on the grey rug with all their kittens, and the dog “Ptuppi.” So I said, “Okay, I'm not really in the mood, but I'll try.” So we went into the bedroom, and I started taking off my clothes. So I had written a poem called “Naked.” He began quoting the poem, eyeing me as I took off my pants and saying, “Naked, naked, naked.” So I lay down on the bed, and he threw a shoe without looking, which did hit me in the nose. Later that week I realized it was swollen, and broken, but for now I just was kind of inured to the situation. So he took off his pants, and I was praying to G-d that he wouldn't want it that one kind of way again, and I was lying on my back, with the covers on. So he started kissing me, with his tongue darting in and out like a snake. Then he asked me to lie on top of him, saying “what would you like” and moving my hips. But before too long it was “This isn't really working, I like to swivel my hips. Can you lie on the edge of the bed?” I was feeling kind of intimidated, and moved to the edge of the bed, with my ass up. And he had his pleasure, he liked the anal canal. And G-d didn't hear that time, and that was that. Then the cat came in, purring.
Judy Katz-Levine has a new book out, The Everything Saint, available from Amazon and published by WordTech Communications. Her other books include Ocarina and When The Arms Of Our Dreams Embrace. A chapbook, When Performers Swim, The Dice Are Cast, emphasizes her work in jazz. Poems and translations have appeared recently in Salamander, Blue Unicorn, Ibbetson Street, Miriam's Well, Writing In A Woman's Voice, and Peacock Journal Anthology. Also a jazz flutist, she enjoys playing jam sessions in the Boston area.