In Los Angeles heat rises in the summer
like a mistake. Wind blows in from the valley
and lays the land senseless. Along the sides of houses
camellias climb windows. Birds of paradise
line lawns and palm trees catch
the hot sky in their branches. Down sidewalks
cracked and overgrown with bulging roots,
my father shuffles along
with the pace of a man
no longer needed,
walking with faded flowers in his fist,
bent, old, sniffling, a cap
pulled down over his ears. He doesn’t feel
the heat. He doesn’t believe he’s going to die
any time soon. He walks as if he has somewhere
to go, as if the world is still waiting for him
to come along and change it. The day folds
its apron of light, and still he hasn’t reached home.
At the corner he remembers the lamp factory
on Melrose, shades, switches, brackets,
light bulbs and bolts, his name on the door, buyers on the phone
from Woolworth’s and May Co. As the hours pile up,
he stands alone at the curb. His feet are in Poland.
His hands pick cherries in a Polish orchard. His head
rests on a pillow beside his brother, long dead.
Sprinklers come on, kitchen lights, the moon
and stars, young men swinging car keys, dogs
and their owners, constellations. Down the paved
driveway and up three stone steps, he sighs. My mother
opens the door. He knows her, he knows her body and bones,
her weight, odor, the pull of her skin, the anchor
of her breath, her voice rising in the morning
with the sun, falling in the evening like a TV tuned
down low. Where have you been so long? she fusses.
With one courtly hand he pulls off his cap,
steps over the doormat and offers the tired bouquet
carried the long way home.
Gail Newman is a museum educator at the Contemporary Jewish Museum and a poet-teacher for California Poets in the Schools. She was born in Germany, raised in Los Angeles, and lives in San Francisco. Newman has published two books of poems by children, Dear Earth and C is For California, and Inside Out, a book of lessons for high school teachers. Her poems have appeared in numerous anthologies, including Ghosts of the Holocaust and Dear Gentlepersons. “My Father Picks Flowers in the Neighbor’s Garden” is from her first collection of poetry, One World (Moon Tide Press, 2011, www.moontidepress.com).