On Being Jewish, Perhaps
The staircase is L-shaped
with a huge cactus in the corner.
Be careful with that,
my mother says every time
we go to visit my aunt Pepa.
Today we are there
because her son has died.
Her son was away, in college.
He wanted to be a lawyer but
liked music most of all.
He died suddenly, they say.
Everybody is in the kitchen,
my aunt and the neighbors,
all women, dressed in black.
My mother is not,
she didn’t have time to change.
My aunt Pepa is sitting in a low chair,
she looks smaller than ever.
My mother and my aunt are cousins,
I believe. They hug, cry, don’t really talk.
My mother grabs my arm,
brings me closer to my aunt.
I kiss her. She is cold, the air is cold.
A neighbor brings a couple of chairs.
He was so young, somebody says.
Nobody knows how he died.
We sit down.
The kitchen smells like bleach.
There is no food around.
This is the first time I see
the kitchen like this—
so clean, empty,
all pans and pots
put away in the cupboards,
no fruit in the fruit bowl,
no dish in the dish rack,
I look at my mother.
Where is the body, I want to say.
My mother leans over,
whispers in my ear.
He is in the hospital,
they have to do an autopsy.
Somehow my aunt hears my mother
and she breaks down
and sobs as if the word autopsy
was even worse than the word death.
I notice that the TV is covered
with a white tablecloth,
so is the large mirror over the credenza.
The mirror is a sailboat.
More neighbors come.
What is an autopsy? I ask my mother
as soon as we leave the house.
They cut you open, they look inside
and then they sew you back together
with long stitches as if they don’t care,
as if they all were in a rush. She says.
She stops and fixes the scarf
around my neck. This wind, she says.
What about the mirror? I say.
Oh, the neighbors did that, she says.
It’s because of the sadness.
Mariano Zaro is a poet and translator. He is the author of four poetry books, most recently Tres Letras/Three Letters (Morsa/Walrus, Barcelona). His translations into Spanish include the work of American poets Philomene Long and Tony Barnstone. He lives in Santa Monica, California.
This was written for Zocalo Public Square