Last night, celebrating the 89th birthday of Papa,
we sat around the table in his and my grandmother’s living room
in Farmington Hills, sharing our memories (mostly of Papa), as he sat
at the head of the table, picking at his kugel and bagel, slumped somewhat,
listening in his light blue shirt and balding head of curly hair
to what must have seemed strange, or familiar.
I said something about role models,
and remembered the Benny Goodman music
Papa would play for me and my brothers on his tape deck,
as we hightailed around town in his Buick.
The tape was banana-yellow. I can still hear
the clunking sound as it was accepted into the deck
and sent spinning.
Papa worked in a tall shiny building which caught the light
as he drove us down the Lodge towards Detroit,
as I wondered what CPA’s did, anyways.
Tabulate statistics? Interview lawyers? Open vaults in banks? No idea.
I’d wake in the morning on the weekends in the summer
and read Spiderman in bed, under the covers,
in my parents’ air-conditioned house, my eyes growing larger
as the amazing bad-guys – Venom, Carnage, the Sinister Six – plundered and caused strife,
though Spidey usually won sooner or later, even if
it darkened him somehow, enlarged his bank of suffering.
When I slept at Maime and Papa’s, they let me pour a packet of powdery hot chocolate
onto mounds of ice cream for dessert. Then I’d stretch out on the carpet
like a lazy cat and watch T.V. with my brothers, with Maime knitting behind us, eating
ice-cream with us, calling Papa “lover.”
Just after I shared my memories with my family, I noticed on a small table in the living room
a black and white picture of Papa as a boy, smiling grandly, toothily,
holding a girl’s hand on some street in a Detroit that’s no longer there, or probably
has a different name.
The picture did something to me; it highlighted time, time and the sad reality of change.
I went into the bathroom, leaned against the sink, cried.
I mean, you’re awake,
you’re a child,
What an arbitrary way to end, and to begin!
As if Spiderman could actually die,
as if Papa was mortal,
as if our names were place-holders for something amazing
that just doesn’t last, or, if it does,
lasts in different forms we’d never even recognize
if we could come back in the future, take a look around,
find an answer to something, to anything.
Too much to think about.
When I came back to the table, my family
was passing more food around. The picture hadn’t moved from the table.
It was as though everything and nothing had happened.