The Ocean Won't Give Him Back to Us

Jane Medved

                                                                                                                                     For Jeremy 1990 - 2017

Dear Lord,

From all the stars on the roof of that night, make for him a black rainbow. Let the helicopter blades stall, then swirl upwards.  Out of the fist of waves, set free the traveller.

And if you will not, make of his belted seat a gleaming fish, whose warm belly still holds him, set free the rocks and metal.

Pull from the muscle of your stillness another beating.                                      

                                                                                  Tell us his heart is just resting.

We don’t want to let go. Who hides harmony in the chorus of crickets, who commands the whales to speak?

                          This is nothing for you.

Bury the long arm of currents. Stop their theft. Tell the creatures of the bottom to move on.

                                                                 You are the sanctuary, we the hunted.

We cannot call this your hand, since we do not see what you are holding.  

We cannot call this your face. When you disappear, we become ghosts.

Make the water clear, translucent. We have covered all the mirrors. Lift the beauty we call this body back to the surface.  Let us find him.

This is the night ocean whose bottom we never reach. We think it is dark because we can’t see and still, the continents split underneath. The crabs have been feasting on divers, leaving only their shoes, one wreck after another. There is no walking in the Kingdom of the Sea. Here are tiny fins and ears. Here is the dorsal, the mandible, the spiny ray. This is air for the warm blooded among us, the expendable. The weather talks, redefining itself: wind and water crystalize in the rhythm of a squall. Here is an empire of molecules laying down its pulse of current. Listen to them groan as the rivers enter and the rain arrives.

It keeps happening, every time you forget, every time you stop looking out the window, your new fate arrives. How will you survive the morning, survive the telephone calls, the sudden interest, the grocery aisles, the unpacked duffle? Here is the sound of your head aching; here is the sound of the doorbell, even when you put a sign up; here is the sound of one car parking, happy to be home, and your neighbors, who shop wearing exercise clothes, happy with their purchases, happy with this Monday or that Friday, it doesn’t matter, every day could be wonderful; here is the sound of the fog horn, even though the ships don’t need it, they have sonar now; here is the fog, which makes no sound, but holds onto the lawn, reaching with its deep white arms, the fog that waits for you all night long.

I wake up and there are cats in the dark. There is one bird in the dark. I think about how the brain is not the mind. I tell myself the mind is a broken trap with thoughts nesting there. I like that: thoughts and birds. Should I get up and write it down, or will that make sure I never get to sleep? I imagine my day being ruined. I imagine my mind as the pink insides of a whale. I scrape them onto a plate. I imagine my mind as air lifting the same music up and up, music that gets snagged on its raggedy edge, so it flips around. I put the thoughts back.  I put the music back. I tamp them down. That’s when the heart starts whining.

Everything has its place and should stay there. This includes chairs and also the blender; spoons are set down on an angle; when arranging flowers trim the ends, dead flowers are depressing, roses should be white, the carpets should be white, the sink should be white, use a mat. Let the phone ring, you don’t need to talk to anyone, they will write you a letter if they care. This is the living room, no one is allowed in there; if you accidently break something, hide it; if you need to walk outside, put on your shoes; if you need to come inside, take off your shoes. This is a glass bowl that smashed; this is coffee on the white mattress; be nice to the workers so they always come back when you need them, which you will. This is a glass table that reflects the ceiling; don’t put your feet on it. This is a dining table that reflects the ceiling, except on Thanksgiving, when there is food to think about; this is how to be thankful even if you don’t feel like it, which you won’t, and that includes smiling; this is how to smile as the guests are leaving, you can measure the damage when everyone has gone.

When I hear Mozart I remember turntables, remember how vinyl feels in my palms, remember that for one long and lonely year, Brahms was my favorite.  Or did I make that up? It doesn’t matter. These days I am vengeful, not nostalgic. God never takes my deals. He does what He wants. And the wind and the water, they are his servants. And the rain, it only follows orders. And the ants, the many, you could say multitude, of ants, who have the power of invisible rules; only the change of seasons can contain them. And the birds, the small ones, whose names I don’t remember, whose names I never knew in the first place, a vast and mysterious wonder of plants and animals I will never label, jump into the dog’s bowl having found at last a bath. I believe they are looking at me.

You have found out that someone dies every two seconds. This shouldn’t make you feel better, but it does. These are the people I know who have died: Ilan, our gardener, who is murdered when he stumbles on a gang killing. Yael, who buys pencils next to a suicide bomber, which sounds quick, but really means nails and screws and arsenic.  Koby, who plays hooky with his friend Yosef. They are beaten to death near their house. Their blood is used to write a message.

The body gets out of bed. The body eats and drinks. “Come upstairs with the girls,” your daughter grabs my arm. I find you in a bubble bath with a glass of white wine. “I’m not saying there’s a silver lining,” you chime, “but at least, now you know I have friends.”  The parents and children from Itamar, who are murdered after their Sabbath meal, even the baby’s head cut off. The midwife stabbed in Otniel. The family stabbed in I can’t remember where. They are expecting guests and open the kitchen door for their killer.

I don’t share these stories.  Yoel, whose car turns over coming back from the bus stop. Sammy, whose car turns over coming back from the airport. The body lies down.  The body wants to sleep. My hairdresser, who beat lung cancer, then it finds his liver. My neighbor, who beat bone cancer, then it finds his pancreas. The threads are loose. They start to unravel.

You say you “want to kill yourself, so you can be with your son.” Then you buy another puppy.  It is arriving this week. A miniature dachshund named “Doodle.” The body makes plans. The body is impatient. Boaz who is killed in an army training exercise. Ilan’s sister, who is blown up at Moment café.  “It’s so safe,” she tells her mother. “There are guards right across the street.” Noam, who chokes on a banana at day care. The medics are too late. Adina, who never wakes up at day care. The medics aren’t necessary. They are here, and then they aren’t. How is this possible?   Ehud, who falls into Herod’s amphitheater, three days in a coma, before they pull the plug. We are here, and then we aren’t. These are their names. We are the people who remember them. Even though I know I’ve left some out.

It was a good day.  I was asked for two of my recipes.  The chocolate date cake and the lentil-bulgur soup, which actually came from Wendy, and I said so, it’s important to acknowledge. It was a good day, even though we were late for the shiva call, and the door was locked and they told us to come back in the morning, but not the women, since they need a minyan, I wasn’t insulted, who wants to get up at 7:00 a.m. anyway, and why didn’t Sol mention it when he saw us walking in and he was walking out. Go figure. It was a good day.  I loitered with Michal outside our gate and she told me how she never got over her brother dying, her parents sitting in the dark, not eating, her life never the same, how she prayed that something of him would pass down to her children and how God answered that, at least.

I talk about God a lot, as if I know him. Which in fact, I don’t. I have no idea.  I’m not even using one of the friendly names the faithful throw around, to show they are buddies, recognizing the Almighty in all of his moods: the Creator, the Ineffable Name, the Everlasting, Blessed Be He, or She, since aspects of the Holy One are male or female, depending.  You ask how I know this? I hang around a lot of believers. My children, for instance. Who have surpassed me and are patient in their goodness. Me, I have an axe to grind, even though I was born into a safe life. One day I am a field. The next, I am a cage. God himself tells Moses to hide in the cracks of the rock. “You can never see my face, only my back.”  The smoking, singed back of God, walking away from the bodies.