Saturday, October 13, 2018

Death Penalty: A Poem  
      - for Abe Schweid (1928 - 2010)
by Esther Altshul Helfgott

Ted Bundy was walking his last walk,
and Abe had his ear glued to the radio.

I walked passed him in a huff
that he cared so much about the life
of that killer
of women.
My stomach turns remembering the news
of Bundy biting off women’s nipples
before killing them.
In 1974, I’m walking 
to the parking lot
after school lets out. 
It’s dark and Bundy's 
said to be in Bellingham, 
where I’m a student at Western.
I’m afraid to walk to my car.
I ask another woman if she'd watch me 
and then I’d watch her. But she scoffs, says:
Bundy’s not here. He won’t get you.

And another woman is killed.
And still another.

The woman had laughed,
and I wondered how she lived
without the fear of men
mutilating women:

A teenage girl bludgeoned to death in Patterson Park,
my neighborhood, East Baltimore, 1946.
Is this a screen memory?

I’m five years old. An eleven-year-old, Marsha Brill,
is knifed to death, July 6, 1948. I’m seven.
This is not a screen memory. The event is captured
in newspapers across the country, 
including the Baltimore Sun. The man was executed. 

Aeleven-year-old girl is hammered to death
in the basement of a tropical fish store.
Again, my neighborhood, Northwest Baltimore,
September 29, 1969. Her name was Esther.
This man was not executed. 
He was white.

How do women grow up unafraid?

When Bundy is finally dead,
January 24, 1989, I breathe a sigh of relief,
go back to our bedroom.
and sit down next to Abe
who is crying.

Wednesday, August 29, 2018

Aunt Miriam Gluskin Helfgott Sax (c 1897 - 2000)

This is my Aunt Miriam Gluskin Helfgott Sax, who came to the US in 1922 with my father, Isidore, and their parents, Jacob and Kaila Helfgott, pronounced Gelfgott in Russian. I was always afraid of Aunt Miriam. She was big and imposing and had a punitive voice, or so it seemed. She gave me a pair of green gloves once, with a matching hat beside. I was five. We were living on East Baltimore Street.  When I was ten she gave me a doll. By then we were living on Pall Mall Road. The presents she gave me didn't make up for my fear of her. I didn't like to hear her voice, though I craved it. I wished she would have put her arm around me, just once, to take the fear away. But look how pretty she was when she came to this country, how sweet her face. I wish I could have touched her face then. I would have liked her touch rather than her presents, though I liked them too. I wonder if living as an immigrant in the United States took her sweetness away. I know it took my father's, though he tried; and maybe she did too.

Tuesday, August 28, 2018

Cirque:A Literary Journal for the North Pacific Rim Vol. 9, No. 2

Image may contain: flower and text

I wrote the poem "Marriage," which appears below, and in this issue of Cirque, years ago. I found it in a pile of work stacked in one of my cubbie holes. It was written when Abe was still home, already diagnosed with Alzheimer's I think, but still functioning relatively okay. He didn't go into a facility until 2006 so I must have written this in the early 2000's when we were both still hoping he would get better. That was such a long time ago, but I remember it as if it were yesterday. I especially liked the kiss at the end of the poem. I will look for more of these stashed-away jottings, and thank Cirque for publishing this one.


She has been taking him
to doctors
every day for a month
and once this last week
he hollered at her.
He was tired too
and was sorry afterwards.
When they came home
she went to bed
and didn’t get up for hours.
When she did,
he was in the kitchen
making dinner.
He turned to look at her.
She smiled and said:
I’m better now.
He put Mozart’s
Divertimento 563
into the CD slot.
They sat down
and ate dinner,
but first
he kissed her.
       -Esther Altshul Helfgott