my father's wallet

maybe he abandoned it long before he abandoned us.
He lived in the same house, moving past us in the hall,
sat, without a word at the chrome kitchen table until
my mother moved out first, took a spring cottage at the
lake where my cat got treed and firemen came to rescue.
After that, Othello was not let off the porch. By summer,
we were back in our own apartment and my father took
rooms at a house in town, hitched up and down rt 7 after
my mother took his key to the Pontiac. To break the
gloom, I thought I would marry and invited him to come.
"I don't want to be involved or pay," he hissed on the
phone, the last words he'd say to me except once, when
I ran into him in the Post Office when he whispered,
"Don't do anything you don't want." He hadn't even
wanted to send my sister or me to college, just cared
about the stocks, wanted them to be a memorial to him,
never go to his wife or daughters but invest themselves
until the world collapsed like a space ship lost in orbit,
circling endlessly with no way to escape. This wallet
must have been as much a time capsule of what he
could walk away from as easily as his heart did from us,
with its birth certificate listing a date I never knew and
the town of Vilna in the county of Vilnius, a page that
looked like an old confederate bill, a few pennies from
the 20's, as useless to him as I guess we were

half as much but double

my father collapses 12 days before
court and the divorce, his nose
a broken flower in snow on the
hills near the Episcopal church.
Years later my mother says she
called him 2 nights before in the
room he rented from someone in
town but when she heard his voice
she hung up so the stocks weren't
divided tho he owed a lot. She
said it took years to pay off, wrote
one will dividing what she had
in two, a half for each daughter
until my sister sued me for a poem,
might as well have pulled a knife
on my mother's dreams in the
years they didn't talk. My mother
redid the will, another half twisted
to a whole, or nearly, a relief as
etched with loss and what isn't
as the etched glass I'm packing, dark
as tarnished silver, split, crazed as
old glass that was once one piece,
won't be

hearing my cousin

who I haven't talked
to for over a year
looked scrawny again,
her hair straggly at
the church four days
after finding her father
in law still warm but
dead under blue sheets
just after breakfast.
I think of my cousin
at the last party, her
hair sleek, her white
teeth looking like she
could be her husband's
child. The father in law,
there eating toast and
then slipping from them
as my cousin has from
me. She was wearing a
frumpy long dress my
mother tells me. She
was crying, the dead
branches out in the
maple still holding
their leaves. My mother
says her husband held
her so tight. The phone
sweaty in my hands from
holding it harder than
I knew I held it

Lyn Lifshin's recent prizewinning book (Paterson Poetry Award) BEFORE IT'S
LIGHT was published winter 1999-2000 by Black Sparrow press, following their
publication of COLD COMFORT in 1997. ANOTHER WOMAN WHO LOOKS LIKE ME will be
published by Black Sparrow-David Godine in September 2004. (_ORDER@GODINE_
(mailto:ORDER@GODINE) ) Also recently published is A NEW FILM ABOUT A WOMAN IN
LOVE WITH THE DEAD, March Street Press. She has published more than 100 books
of poetry, including MARILYN MONROE, BLUE TATTOO, won awards for her non
fiction and edited 4 anthologies of women's writing including TANGLED VINES,
ARIADNE'S THREAD and LIPS UNSEALED. Her poems have appeared in most literary and
poetry magazines and she is the subject of an award winning documentary film,
LYN LIFSHIN: NOT MADE OF GLASS, available from Women Make Movies. Her poem,
"No More Apologizing" has been called "among the most impressive documents
of the women's poetry movement." An update to her Gale Research Projects
Autobiographical series, "On The Outside, Lips, Blues, Blue Lace," was
published Spring 2003. She is working on a collection of poems about the famous,
short lived beautiful race horse, Ruffian. New chapbooks include WHEN A CAT DIES
and ANOTHER WOMAN'S STORY and forthcoming chapbooks include MAD GIRL POEMS,
BARBIE POEMS. A new collection, Persephone, will be published by Red Hen
Press. For interviews, photographs, more bio material, reviews, interviews,
prose, samples of work and more, her web site is

2004 Underground Voices