Three Poems

Poetry
Ivy Raff


Image of bright yellow-green beach grass and wildflowers in the foreground, Jamaica Bay in the midground, and the Manhattan skyline with a cluster of tall buildings at the horizon. The water and sky are hazy and gray tinged with gold.

Photo Credit: Costa Constantinides/Flickr (CC-by-nc)

I Once Loved Yehuda

Six thousand year old man swam
from the Gulf of Aden into my
left atrium, pressed an ear to my chest
as it battered and said, Gentile hearts
are different from ours. Closed
his face, mewled in ecstasy as my music
echoed inside him.

Before Titus destroyed the second
temple, I looked like Yehuda, I
bound books like Yehuda, I
cracked cardamom seeds with my
molars. Two millennia later he
reoccupied Al-Quds as Yemen
convulsed with hunger pangs.
Yafa sheli, he whispers, my
beauty. And yesterday grimaced
when I stuffed the headscarf
he gifted me into my backpack.

Yehuda and I lay under
a sunbeam in Brooklyn, clean
sheets, gingered lentils softening
on the stove, far and close. With his
medicine lingering in my body dreams
wick me and my grandmother’s
grandmother comes, introduces herself
as Rajchel. “The scourge of Europe,”
governments called her when she fled.
And she bound herself to her husband
for protection. She told me to run.
Told me to run.

 

A Thank-You Note to My Father’s Depression

Maybe there were moments in his life
you permitted to rest uncomplicated—

like when he griddled cheese sandwiches
as a short order cook in Morningside Heights

to put himself through Columbia.
His grilled cheese was so damn good

I can only think it sparked pleasure, learning
to smear the butter on the outsides of the slices

and flip the melt in just the right fragment of time
between golden brown and too-burnt.

Maybe you let his teeth crack the crisp and he thought
Hey this is good, a flash of mild, surprised

satisfaction. I think of how you must have stepped
back so he could stay engrossed, sky-hued eyes trained

on his father’s work-arched spine as he fixed
the engine on the Impala, mechanical mind

figuring and integrating, something that makes
sense, finally, a car engine. Or you letting him be,

for the summertimes he could steal away from you,
a little boy in a straw cowboy hat and bolo tie

in the shoot-’em-up sixties, skipping along the quiet
lapping line of Jamaica Bay, swatting away mosquitoes

between bouts of becoming engrossed again, in the twitching
lives of new guppies. He sounded delighted even

pronouncing the word guppies, babies wriggling on his
tongue. You desisted enough for his brain to invent

a similar word—iggy—to describe his chest, warm, protected,
snug-feeling inside a thick vest in winter. And he’d physically

snuggle when he said the word iggy, bearing down on his ribs,
closing his eyes and smiling contentedly, as if he were transported

back to relief from a slushy Queens December in the seventies,
everything tinted brown and decaying from the cold. But

he found, in spite of you, a kernel of warmth and life inside
himself deep at his core. Iggy, his own word. His own Yiddish.

 

Pantoum for a Eulogy

We children arrived at the Florida retirement home
after her travels in China. We found Rho in full Marco Polo mode
returned from her Far East sojourn laden with exotic goods.
She spread them on that garish lipstick-red living room carpet.

After her travels in China, we found Rho in full Marco Polo mode
gifting a rainbow of  stone-inlaid bangles to my mother.
She spread them on that garish lipstick-red living room carpet:
clever mechanized toys for the boychildren, flat-smiled silk-clad dolls for me.

Gifted a rainbow of stone-inlaid bangles from my mother,
I spoke Rhoda’s eulogy decades later to the tear-sliced faces of my aunts remembering
clever mechanized toys for the boychildren, flat-smiled silk-clad dolls for me.
Seeds in the wind! We never think they will blow back to us.

I spoke Rhoda’s eulogy decades later. The tear-sliced faces of my aunts remembered
we children arriving at the Florida retirement home
as seeds in the wind they never thought would blow back to them
until we’d returned from our Far East sojourns, laden with exotic goods.

pencil

Ivy Raff’s poetry appears or is forthcoming in The American Journal of Poetry, Nimrod International Journal, Stone Canoe, and West Trade Review, among several others, and is anthologized in Spectrum: Poetry Celebrating Identity (Renard Press, 2022). A current nominee for the Best of the Net Anthology, she is a 2023 Alaska State Parks artist in residence, a finalist in the 2021 sweettooth//HONEY Micropoetry Contest. Her work has received scholarship support from the Colgate Writers’ Conference. She’s studied Zen Buddhist approaches to writing under Natalie Goldberg and Subhana Barzaghi, and was selected as the mentee of Kwame Dawes at Atlantic Center for the Arts. Ivy holds degrees from Fordham University and CUNY Baruch College in Public Policy and Economics. When she isn’t writing, you can find her baking sourdough challah or hiking. Email: ivy.raff[at]gmail.com