These are the latest in a series of poems about a tough, and smart, sometimes acerbic old lady, Mrs. Podolski, all monologues addressed to a young woman.
Mrs. Podolski Returns From A Visit
Hardly any left, my dear. It’s the way of
the world. Events come in waves, you’ll see—
you already have. Remember all those
weddings you went to last year? Six, wasn’t it?
Well, get ready for a tide of babies and
suburbs. Divorces next, second marriages,
cruises, la Change, retirement, Delray Beach,
assisted living, then assisted dying
and the final milestone in the boneyard.
They told me her cancer’s insatiable,
gobbling up organs like peanuts, spreading
like that fire last summer in Washoe.
The hospice people
are all saints, at least when they’re on duty.
Her daughter burst into tears when she saw me
because of what I represent. I hugged her,
of course. The son was stoic. He just shot
me a says-it-all nod. Edith and I met
fifty years ago, giggled, gossiped, played gin.
Today I had to say goodbye.
when I hit puberty that it hit me, dear—
that no matter what bandwagon I hopped
on, notwithstanding sororities and proms,
in spite of book clubs and mahjongg teas,
shopping runs and girls’ nights out, despite
dinner parties and July Fourth jamborees,
I’d wind up alone—it struck me that
half of life is just pretending otherwise.
When the end gets near the delusion dissolves;
we see it was always rushing toward us
like a murderer with a kitchen knife
galloping across the city to our bed.
We see that what we thought was long is short.
I know, dear, these are old people’s thoughts,
unseasonable in every season. No doubt
that’s what the King said to himself when in
Jarrow Old Bede told him life was just a
sparrow streaking through the mead-hall,
in one window and out the other.
Edith may have been glad to see me,
just as I’m happy to see you, my dear.
She might have wanted to say goodbye too.
But she’d collapsed into herself so
I don’t really know.
Mrs. Podolski Watches The News
Yes, my dear, I saw about the latest
murder-suicide, a cop this time, a wife
who wanted out. Domestic violence—
it sounds like an oxymoron but
we can’t domesticate rage, can we?
Did you catch the one about the eighty-
year-old ramming his Camry into Walgreens?
Thought the go pedal was the stop. The mind
slips like the foot. Memory muddles
its index cards; le mot juste eludes you;
names tickle the tip of your tongue. When the
marbles roll off the table, dear, people stop
praising the few you’ve still got. Trop vieux pour
lescrimes passionnels, pas lesaccidents de voiture.
The Toyota and the service revolver.
Despairing seniors aren’t photogenic and,
as a rule, their suicides are solitary, quiet,
and seldom make the obits, let alone the news.
You must have noticed, dear, how the news
isn’t new, every night the same uninspired
sonnet sequence of fires and traffic jams;
every evening yesterday’s four-act play.
First a medley of bad things that happened that day,
next a weather forecast that could be over
in two minutes but maunders on for ten,
then the bouncy sports report from some broad-
shouldered bloke, and, for a finale, something
cute about a kitten rescued from a sewer, say,
or an infant delivered by a dazed cabbie.
The Six O’Clock News is aimed at the old.
Just look at the ads between the Acts
for laxatives, hypertension, acid reflux,
breast cancer, depression, arthritis, fading
memory, annuities, reverse mortgages.
The old can lose perspective like Celia Vetus
who got addled and said the world’s going to hell
because of some minor drug bust in Malden.
Mostly, though, seniors take the news in stride.
We’ve got more aches than stress because you grow
detached, a spectator way up in the cheap seats.
The worries about the grandchildren are sincere
but abstract—hell, the kids themselves get more
abstract every year. Abstract, dear? It means
to draw away from. They wax, we wane. Newborns
in their cribs don’t know they’ve got a future
while their doting grandmothers know they don’t,
at least the ones who can still do the math.
Four years ago feels like yesterday; four
years of news just whizzed by. Four more
and we’ll be where news is never made.
About the Author
Robert Wexelblatt is a professor of humanities at Boston University’s College of General Studies. He has published eight collections of short stories; two books of essays; two short novels; two books of poems; stories, essays, and poems in a variety of journals, and a novel awarded the Indie Book Awards first prize for fiction.