For Auntie  1932-2023

I started my poem like this:  Embracing shame in methodology removes the one tear preserving the splendor of the bouquet left for Auntie on that special day—the first Kaddish independently recited by my generation. 

It was a stupid poem. Gossip—giving Loshon Hora a genre of its own.   I tried to explain why every tree planted by Jewish women of our generation rots, hollows, and topples the hour their frail leaves and whispers find a poem to live inside. It made me want to check on Auntie and apologize for forgetting to bring her fresh flowers from the garden weekly.  But I was late.  It was time for a siddur, or a smooth pebble, not flowers.

“Are you so afraid of not being invited to the great feast that you’ll pour your sense of being through a keyhole?  Is that why you stay so thin?  It’s a hell of an accomplishment, I must say.  I love you, Sweetie.”  That’s the way Auntie greeted me at the door of her new assisted-living apartment the last time we visited.

“Where’s your mezuzah?”

“I don’t have a mezuzah.  I don’t want them to know I’m Jewish.  ‘The hubristic intentionality of politicians is a poor replacement for insight.’ She quoted from an essay I’d written two years ago,  and asked, “What did you decide to do about that?  Nail a mezuzah to your door post?”

Thankfully, she did not wait for an answer and announced:  “Well, shit. Never mind me. I  stopped voting this year, despite my oath, or promise to my suffragette grandmother.  I’ll fit right in next to failed trees and emaciated white women.”  Auntie said the same thing the day her driving privileges were revoked. It’s her go-to statement when she runs out of answers or can’t balance her checkbook at the end of the month.

The previous Tuesday, I saw her driving.  She was going to the store to buy a bottle of Prosecco for Lech Lecha—her favorite Shabbat—the Traveler’s Shabbat.  She didn’t care she’d been caught behind the wheel of her Subaru but did promise to turn over her keys–eventually.  Oddly enough, I believed her.  Trust and follow-through are a kind of poem.  If recited too early in the day, it intoxicates.  If you hear it late in the day, you’ve resorted to liturgy, simple as it is.

When the sun begins to set, Auntie becomes angry. With the appearance of three stars,  just after dusk, she remembers her first day of school and spends the night wandering,  looking for her father’s garden, and searching for pictures discarded years ago.   She worries she’s missed the spring and planting time and doesn’t want to disappoint her family ghosts.  There’s an obligation to follow their ways and keep their secrets.  She obsesses about squirrels ransacking her flowerbed at the old house, now empty, and is angry the mother fox she admired so highly allows it.

The custodial nurses in the new place have reported her.  Auntie calls the written reports slipped under her door woke-fascism, alleging “Someone or some organization wants to erase me.  Anti-Semitism is rising.  I feel it in my sleep.”

When it’s time to eat breakfast, she’s happy.  Even the family ghosts are smiling.  She anticipates visitors and when they don’t show up, she drives to town looking for them.  Her hair shines like a silver ring, melting in sunlight.  She wears expensive white slacks and a stylish blouse.  Her clothes are always new. She no longer covers her hair or wears long, frumpy skirts.  “I’m a modern, Jewish woman.  Want to make something out of it?”  No one takes her on.  We hide our smiles and update our wardrobes accordingly.  We want to be modern Jewish women too.

Of course, one afternoon, her car broke down near the emptied family home.  Her cell phone was dead, so she threw it out the window as if it were a seed.  Her anger bloomed underground like a radish. When we found her everyone in earshot had become a “dumb-ass”.

What I heard was not Auntie, but a virus.  A spore entered through her skin,  hiding like a dormant bulb ripening slowly.  No word can be used here.  No language describes what’s happening to her.  Whatever it is, it’s moving from the inside out, again a poem no one quite gets or wants to spend time with.   Not even old seed popping into the wind from her father’s garden brings a cure.  Her motto has become, nothing remembered should be worn more than once. 

The car was towed.  Auntie praised Tripple-A as if the burly tow truck driver was a visiting angel who’d dropped in unexpectedly and bought her lunch.    She looked me straight in the face, and in her real voice, confided,  “I lost the checkbook, two pairs of glasses, and Mama’s teapot in the past week.  God? Are you there? Then, damn it.”

That’s when the shame-tear threatened to dance like a fifty-cent piece on the rim of a black hole we call the tzedakah puddle.  Auntie taught us all mitzvoth should be completed anonymously, in other words,  a good poem writes itself.  Just when I thought I’d have to leave it all sitting in the middle of a residential street resurrected from the 1940s, Auntie laughed, “The world is getting better.  Look at the beautiful roses Papa planted when I was seven years old.  Come on, let’s have a bowl of cottage cheese for lunch and call it kasher, a life well lived.”

She was so beautiful—like a poem silenced and given no name.  She was just what the world fears most—a woman put together, need unmet, yet cleverly resolved and blameless.  A Jewish woman who’d survived numerous rewrites and script changes.

Then there was the look:  memory carved from the air and spoken aloud, unexpectedly and prophetic—a god-like voice—neither male nor female.   Auntie looked at us all, the same gaze at the same moment, but it was another Auntie—a woman hiding, peeking out to see who was watching, who might still be looking for her.  Her world became a contraction, a contrived method of speaking, despite missing letters.  “Oh look, it’s Butch—Great-Granny’s old dog. Is that damn dog still alive?”

The sun shined so brightly that day that my eyes saw only incomplete shadows.  I could barely cope, and might as well have been sewing pieces of a quilt together with a bunch of dead women.  How many Aunties walk the earth as memories?  Someday, I’ll figure that out from the inside out.  Someday, if I’m lucky,  I’ll be driving down a street and everything will fail.  I’ll have no ride home.

While awaiting a tow I’ll notice the back of my hands are the hands of every woman I’d ever known and believed would never leave me behind.  I’d remember every gift given or received; every mezuzah nailed to a doorpost.  The splendid bouquets gathered from gardens, lost keys and abandoned cars would pile up like letters in a book, each the calculus of sorrow turned into purpose.

It’s then an old dog will walk by, brushing my knees and dirtying my new loose-fitting, white slacks.  I’ll smile, and give up on fear, repayment, and grudges. Compliance will have lost its melody.  I’ll bend down carefully so as not to frighten the animal, pat its head, and tousle its soft ears.

Finally, help arrives, but I’m an introvert and remain alone.   Auntie will come to mind—a long overdue visit.  It’s then I’ll finish my poem.  It will be about an old dog looking for its master, but in the end, fails to show, or simply disappears.

Article by Author/s
Tovli Simiryan
Tovli Simiryan lives near Lake Erie with her husband Yosif, who does all the talking. Tovli spends her time filling up little pieces of paper with words until they morph into stories and poems, eventually discovering lives of their own.


  1. Deborah Taddeo Reply

    Your story speaks to every women of the matriarchs that composed they families for generations ruling from the kitchen is they cleaned away the holiday feast served while their men some tyrants some saints smoked their pipes and cigars and swirled and sniffed their drinks contentedly. The woman of my family discussed stock markets and politics while scrubbing the pans. I had a photo that now only exists in my memory of my Bohemian grandmother and her two sisters marching down the middle of Euclid avenue and their mink stoles and high heels. They were a glorious sight to behold. My grandmother Cecilia died a horrible death living brilliantly till she couldn’t, her sister Ella timid with the husband a tyrant In his youth and harmless but still larger than life in his old age died shortly after her husband confused and lost, than just fading away, and Hattie the third sister who would show you an apple and describe with wonder it’s crisp sweetness passed away peacefully in her hospital bed where I worked right after a nice stroll down the hospital corridor an hour before she was to be released. The nurses called me when she passed and her hair, her pride and joy that at 89 fell to her waist was parted in the middle and pleated into two long braids, she looked like a young girl with an old woman face. Perhaps she was just waiting for my Uncle Jerry, her true love who has passed before her to kiss her awake to spend eternity with him.

    Awe your poem returned all those memories to me and so much more.

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