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Gail Newman


My Father Picks Flowers in the Neighbor's Garden


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).


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