'Time's Tense Conjugations' is on our hymn sheets.
It's been a while but the benches are still aching.
They have new translations again
and brave settings, but I can still sing this:
‘Help Us Livelong Grief’. ‘Meditation on Space in My Soul.'
And my favorite: ‘Just Try to Move Your Lips.'
Replacing time is a job,
I whisper to myself and steal a glance up at papery
Dad. He's not on organ duty and cannot smoke
so doesn't pipe up. His lips don't take custody.
They bombard his brain with collateral. Due to too
much papillary toccata his faith reverberates right out of him.
My mother feels duped since her parents' deaths
weren't the happiest events, not before and not after.
They raged at the dark, did not smile in their coma.
I don’t want to tell her, but I think it was because they
hadn't been good. Not bad either; just preoccupied.
The sermon centres on the suicide
note from the Anti-Christ in Daniel 8:
Sorry about trying to grow more horns than the Prince.
On my right, I see my sister's salivating when our vicar,
who is my uncle and can be droll, but like a czar,
only at home, extemporizes a ram and a goat.
My aunt gives her husband a wary look, Deliver
the goods for a week of gossip around our end-of-the-world-village.
My sister is crazy about animals to the point
she wants them in her soup and in her arms.
I love the army of stars, especially since
they rain down and get flattened.
We have a melodious interval: 'Interpretation
Is Sane.' Instead of the men and women psalming back
and forth with the choir, we go by right and left pews:
clarity at last. My mother would like to be in the choir
but they don't welcome her menopausal falsetto
doomed to be bumped by a vacuum cleaner. Although this too
is a question of belief in one's abilities;
we Calvinists are taught to take everything with grace.
We really are the modestest! If we ever disappear (soon),
I'm afraid the population won't be interested
in the nitty-gritty of true stories.
They'll start to eat white bread again.
I don’t even want to think about drinking blood.
He Gives Me a Pear from His Garden
He gives me a pear from his garden.
I don’t have to sleep with him.
He shuffles a plastic box with cut-up vegetables.
I can’t make out whether they are from his garden.
I might have to sleep with him.
We go hiking in the Golan Heights, a garden
of fruit in summer. All the red ones hang low.
I pick one for my own use, which conforms to farming law.
He picks a grape, dusts it off on his T-shirt.
It's been sprayed with gibberellic acid
and is rounder and plumper than it would normally be.
Its bitterness makes my lips pucker.
Another plum that he picks from an overhanging
bough is tricky to weigh for me.
It's small, but I'm already full.
The pokeweed berries can give you stomach cramps
but I only rub them on my palms, bride-style.
Like a warrior that got a little sick,
he marks his nasolabial folds bloodred.
I pay for the hummus at the eatery
where the sun dapples the lake. We get the coffee
free, Druze-Arab hospitality.
He says, "Thank you."
I don't need to sleep with him.
Jacqueline Schaalje has published short fiction and poetry in the Massachusetts Review, Talking Writing, Frontier Poetry, and Grist, among others. Her stories and poems were finalists for the Epiphany Prize, in the Live Canon and New Guard Competitions. She has received support and/or scholarships at the Southampton Writers Conference and International Women's Writing Guild, and One Story and Live Canon workshops. She joined the Tupelo Press 30/30 project. She is a member of the Israel Association for Writers in English. She earned her MA in English from the University of Amsterdam.