I recently had a lively conversation with Aaron Berkowitz, the editor of Jewish Literary Journal. We talked about my poem, “Nebach,” as well as our views about Yiddish and its role in Jewish memory. My thanks to JLJ for giving a platform to Jewish voices.
Hope you enjoy it HERE.
Finally, a big thanks to the editors of Wolfson Press for naming my new chapbook, “Woman on the Run,” as a Semi-Finalist in their chapbook competition.
In celebration of Poetry Month, Gyroscope Magazine is publishing audio versions of different poets throughout April. Here are three of my poems in audio, courtesy of the editors— you can listen through the link below. The poems are:
“Ajar” (first appeared in Leaping Clear)
“dead, my mother moves in” (first appeared in Words and Whispers)
Tiny Grandmothers” (first appeared in Gyroscope)
No, this is not a clip from the Academy Awards (which I have missed consistently and happily for many years) and no, this contains no violence of any kind. Sorry to disappoint, but it is an excerpt from an event I did for virtual SMOL (Small Press Book Fair) on March 26.
You can click below to see the conversation with colleague and author Susan Weinstein about my novel A CLOSET FEMINIST (published by Unsolicited Press) and more broadly, the topic of women and ambition. Susan and I had fun talking, and I hope you enjoy the discussion.
Click here to listen
As I approach publication date for A CLOSET FEMINIST, I return to some of my funny short stories — this one featured a cat. I think it appeared in some defunct magazine, but don’t ask me which.
LOSING MR. FRANKLIN
A day before Christmas, Jake Morris told me two things. First, he said that he never loved me. Second, he said that his name wasn’t Jake Morris, but by that time, who cared? He stuffed his clothes into a knapsack, and was ready to go in five minutes.
I caught him at the door, and said, “Hey, not so fast. You’re not leaving me with your cat.”
I used the term “your cat” because (the former) Jake hadn’t named his tabby, preferring to call it tenderly, or so I thought, “cat.” The two of them (man and cat) seemed as one. And yet, the not-Jake was dumping his beloved pet. Of course, he was also dumping me, but that was par for the course. Guys break up with girlfriends, but with cats? What sort of lowlife abandons a pet?
“Deal with it,” he said.
“Please go and do not return, whoever you are,” I said. “I wish you a long, sad life.”
“You too, Mia,” he said, as he headed out to pastures that, I fervently hoped, were brown and arid.
I slammed the door behind him.
That left me with one disgruntled grey tabby on Christmas Eve. The cat had thick fur, a long tail, and a puzzled, almost startled, expression. When I approached, his back curled and tail went stiff. He meowed endlessly, too, in unceasing, sorrowful tones.
“Jake’s gone,” I told him as he stared down at me from his cabinet perch. “He’s not returning. We can’t wait for him, and his name’s not Jake. He doesn’t love you, and he never did. You must learn to accept this as your new reality.”
The cat jumped on the soiled armchair where the not-Jake once sat. He scratched at the seat until he had ripped through it—not difficult, given the chair’s age. He emitted sounds as helpless as a baby’s. He refused my offer of chocolate truffles, while I ate enough for two, nay three, people and watched It’s a Wonderful Life. Such was my lonesome Christmas.
After the memory of my sad holiday was gone, I knocked on my neighbor’s door, with cat in arm. The name on his mailbox said, “Jacob Greenberg,” but I had heard him called Jake, which I suppose can be the diminutive for Jacob; although I prefer the full, biblical name. My neighbor was as tall and lanky as the other Jake, and had blue eyes and impossibly long lashes. He worked at the nearby medical center, but he was not a doctor—or at least, his doorbell did not say so.
It required three loud, firm knocks before he answered. He held the door ajar, chain in place. “Hey,” he said, in a sleepy morning voice. “I hope my bicycle in the hall isn’t a problem. I heard it might snow, so I brought it in.”
“No, I admire bicycles, although I personally do not bike,” I said, trying to keep the cat from jumping. “And yours is a rich shade of cobalt blue, which is my favorite color.”
“Great,” he said. “Happy Holidays, I guess. Ha, ha, you brought your cat.” He opened the door, and extended one solitary index finger to the animal.
“To be honest, this isn’t mine. The cat happens to be living with me, which is what I need to talk to you about.”
“What’s its name aside from cat?” he asked.
His question inspired me. “Ben Franklin is his name. You know, he’s a Philadelphia cat. Feel free to call him Mr. Franklin, if you like.”
“Cats don’t usually have last names,” he observed.
“No, it’s somewhat atypical,” he replied.
“Cats deserve surnames just like anyone else. Anyway, you see Ben Franklin is a perfectly respectable cat. So, to cut to the chase, I was hoping you’d take him,” I said, and to sweeten the deal, added, “He’s house-trained, and if you ever have mice, it’s handy to have a cat around—unless you have parakeets or parrots, in which case it’s probably a bad idea – or if you have a severe cat allergy, you might die. But that’s extremely rare.”
He looked at me, goggle-eyed. “Let me get this. You want me to take your cat,” he said. “That is what you’re here for?”
“Hmm, in a nutshell, yes—you see my boyfriend left after he borrowed five thousand dollars from me, which, by the way, makes payment of the rent challenging. But that is another story. For now, there’s this cat, which was his. Truth is, I’ve never owned a real pet, just those online, virtual ones and they don’t eat cat or dog food. Obviously, they consume virtual foodstuffs. This cat has no interest in me. I’d guess that he secretly loathes me.”
“Most cats are deeply indifferent to people.” he said.
“That’s interesting since his owner was also deeply indifferent to me. You might say that was the core of our brief, but cold, relationship.”
“So Jake’s gone,” he said, looking cheerful. “He wasn’t around long.”
“One month, to be exact, and his name was not really Jake,” I said, trying to elucidate matters, “or Morris. His real identity is a secret. Probably he’s an FBI agent.”
“Interesting hypothesis,” Jacob said. “I need coffee.”
He led me into his apartment, which was neater than mine—and tinkered with coffee grinders, filters, and so forth. Inadvertently, I left the door ajar. Sure enough, Ben Franklin leapt from my arms, raced downstairs, ears straight and tail straighter. Jacob and I followed, but in vain. Ben Franklin was out of the building, out of sight.
“Terrific,” I said. “I’m trying to get rid of a cat, and it runs away from me before I can even get rid of it. What next?”
Jacob tried to calm me, making the argument that cats, as a rule, need food; and catching mice in a blizzard is not fun. His logic, though impeccable, did not persuade me—so we decided that “lost cat” signs were in order. First, we posted a sign at the tacky deli across the street, which had a “lost pet” board, as well on tree trunks and sides of buildings. I did not have a photo, but I wrote a comprehensive Missing Cat sign, explaining the situation in detail:
Feline Missing! This animal was lost on December 26, near 10 Camac Street. The cat is a regular grey tabby of average size and weight. He is not particularly friendly or cuddly, but will not scratch or bite and, as far I know, does not have rabies. His previous owner (formerly named Jake, possibly a Federal agent) has abandoned him. This trauma may explain his bad mood and subsequent flight. Please call 215-666- 9978 if you have news of him. No reward is possible.
That very night, the phone rang. “You are insane,” said the voice of the former (and for all I knew, future) Jake Morris.
“Why hello,” I said. “Touching to hear from you, but I thought you were gone forever with your knapsack and my five thousand dollars. May I take it you’re in Philadelphia? Or have you had a psychic intervention?”
“That’s not your business. What did you do to my goddam cat?”
“I offered him a solid, stable home environment. And he has a name by the way, which is more than I can say for you. He goes by the title of Ben Franklin.”
“Christ, Mia,” he said before slamming the receiver down.
Next morning, I got a flurry of calls from elderly types who sat in Washington Square feeding stray cats and pigeons. Their reports were so vague as to border on the metaphysical. I wandered through garbage-filled alleys, meowing as I walked; but to no avail.
“I’m looking for my cat. He’s angry with me,” I explained to a homeless man who ignored me.
I returned home. For lack of anything better to do, I gave myself a haircut with tiny scissors, a process that I cannot in good faith recommend. Then, I painted my nails using pinks, oranges, red, even whites, alternating color from nail to nail.
As predicted, a huge fleecy snowfall blanketed Philadelphia. My street was buried in a foot of snow, and lost all power. It was colder than a city ever should get, and without a flashlight, pitch black—and I stumbled to reach Jacob’s door.
I shouted, “It’s Mia. My flashlight is dead, it is seriously dark. I hope you have candles. Please be home.”
He opened the door, with Ben Franklin in his arms, purring like a motorboat. “Look who,” he said. “Your hair is kind of …asymmetrical, but in a good way.”
“I needed a change,” I said, as he led me inside to an apartment was brightly lit by candles of all sizes, with a cozy fireplace of all things. “Funny that Ben Franklin came to you. He lived with the old Jake forever, and you two only met once, but once it all it takes, I guess.”
“To be honest, I think he came in search of my cat. She’s hiding now, she’s shy, but she’s pretty. Look.”
He shone a flashlight under the sofa, under which a white creature hovered. She let her delicate paws emerge from the depths. “That’s why I was on the fence about taking Ben. Betsy is a seriously demanding cat. She is super-neurotic and possessive. I was worried she wouldn’t handle it.”
“Maybe she can’t, and you’ll have to return Ben Franklin to me. That’s only fair.”
“Nah, I like the little guy,” said Jake, touching his nose to Ben’s. “But you can visit him every day. We can share him like joint custody. Take my key, see him when you like.”
“But what about her” I whispered, lest Betsy overhear. “Won’t she get jealous about Ben Franklin? Won’t that stir up old, painful emotions?”
“Speaking of jealous, I hope that Jake isn’t coming back for Ben Franklin or…you,” he said with eyes that, yes, twinkled in the dark.
“No, he thinks I’m insane or morbid, or both. And besides, men who owe money never show up, in my experience. I’d say he’s a goner.”
“That is good news…except about the money.”
“Every cloud has a silver lining or vice-versa,” I said.
“Well, we missed Christmas, but we got lots of winter holidays ahead. New Years, Martin Luther King Day, President’s Day, lots of time for you, me, Ben and Betsy.”
“I love President’s Day. It’s such an efficient holiday, squeezing all the presidents together, kind of like Mt. Rushmore.”
“And no one’s forced to buy President’s Day Cards,” he observed.
“But will Betsy accept Ben Franklin? You said she’s irrational and possessive, and we don’t want to traumatize her.”
“Betsy Ross has unexpected depths,” he said. Then he kissed me for a long time, and neither of the cats made a sound. He kissed my fingers, too, on all the different colors.
“That was a surprise,” I said.
“You mean, this,” he said and kissed me again somewhere else.
“No, I mean about your cat being named Betsy Ross. That is most atypical. I was expecting the kiss a few minutes ago, to be perfectly frank with you, not that it wasn’t worth the wait, mind you. It definitely was. In fact, we should do it again soon, Jacob—you don’t mind if I call you Jacob? I’ve developed a deep, lasting aversion to the name Jake that years of psychotherapy are unlikely to cure.”
“Good thing, Jacob is my name. I hate the name Jake,” he said. “And for the record, I am not a Federal agent and never have been. I hope you’re not gravely disappointed.”
“Jacob, I am a realist—let’s face it, a girl can’t have it all,” I said—and then, believe it or not, the lights came back, and there were Ben Franklin and Betsy Ross, entwined, two happy balls of fur.
“Don’t be too sure,” said Jacob as he turned off the switch.
My (funny, I hope) novel A Closet Feminist is now available for pre-order from the publisher site as well as from Amazon and other retailers. It is print-only at this point. I’ll let you know if (or when) a digital version is available.
I will be participating in the Small Press Book Fair (SMOL) in March, along with my colleague Susan Weinstein, author of (also very funny) The Anarchist’s Girlfriend. We will be discussing “Women and Ambition.”
Later in the year, my (first) poetry collection, She Has Visions, will be published and distributed by Main Street Rag Press. It’s also print-only and probably will remain that way.
My most recent “San Francisco” poem “Passing By the Giants” appears in the lovely Quartet Journal. Many thanks to the editors.