And it shall come to pass,
that, when ye go, ye shall not go empty.
-Exodus 3:21

Years ago, when aunt Suzie’s
name was still indistinguishable
from the sound of a blouse
rubbed between my fingertips,
grandma Lorraine still
knew who I was (yeah,
Johnny’s firstborn son),
and mother was restless
as leavening bread, we sat at table
shut-lipped with eyes
pasted to place mats,
waited for the garlic sharp draft
like rusted wrought iron
to upturn our noses, not
talk: the slow crack of bread,
syllables broken off
like crumbs to plates.

Our chatter was the clink
on bowl bottom of spoons
pushed through matzo balls,
or an in-law’s blush—
sometimes flushed enough
to choke up a giggle.
Grandma talked of Matthew’s
Bar Mitzvah, and grandpa
eyed his bowl, never
raised his head, just stopped
spooning his soup when she said,
But Johnny never wanted that.
Back in this room, father
rests his hand on my shoulder,
and I want to brush it off like a dead leaf.
But leave it. Nothing is here,
nothing but damp wood
and the dust of chair cushions;
our chatter has gone, and the bowls
sit down-turned like stones
on the trodden weeds of graves.