Wings whirring––to break into the light––hitting our porch lamps. Spitting like drops flung into flame, falling shorn. In the morning, a toad by my mother’s front door, so sated with wings that he sprawls sleeping on WEL, insect crumbs screening COME.
My mother on the porch bench after breakfast––spine a fiddlehead over Folgers––struggling to remember. “Lake Constance” is all she can say. I know the story. Other Jews, each night swimming through the lake, fleeing Germany for Switzerland. Ice water opium slowed them. Then the one-eyed searchlights, gun cracks.
For months of winter dawns, my mother and her sister, four/six, on the Swiss shore after blintz breakfasts––exploring the beached dead. Their poking sticks, rubbed bare as flesh, lifted, peeked: locked blue mouths, silk scarves now chill ropes, pale ankle throats in weedy, cashmere hose. The dead dressed, no, the living had dressed as if yachting to a romantic gourmet tryst, not to black water.
Instead, late evenings, after hunting them at the lake, the Nazis were the ones among Riesling and sauerbraten, Bierdermeier and beeswax candles––cozy fire, yet cold rain so taut they often could not open the door afterward to go home. Nor could my mother: grandparents, parents railroaded into gas, she later became American, a Philadelphian, a corset Episcopalian.
But now, only sister hours dead, she reaches toward the beached phantoms they once found together. Yes, they stole from them. The only item she kept her entire life was a child’s watch, glass back and front to show the metal works inside. She stored it for six decades––and clutched it like a lucky coin in times of trouble.
This morning, she does not clench the watch, but slips it in her mouth and holds it there, like a lozenge. She can’t remember her sister. She can’t remember the drowned. Yet like the toad, she feels oddly full and content. The timepiece is smooth against her tongue. “Metal soft-run,” she mutters after I pull it from her lips––perhaps yearning to absorb the dead and time, to make them live, her own.