Arlene Distler


Miami Beach, 1998

Miami Beach, 1998


The sleek sculls, each with four rowers
and a coxswain skim over the surface,
multiple oars pulling the body,

unexpected vision of effort
in this culture of gentility and ease.

I’m on a white-washed deck
at my family home, everything kept on track
these days by a phalanx

of hired help from Haiti,
the Dominican Republic, Peru.
A formidable group with their assigned tasks:

he washes my father, she cooks the food,
another stays overnight in case, and so forth.
They all have good hearts,
work with precision and care, even humor.

On this trip I find out
one has become enamored of another,
scandals brew, sides taken.
I feel like I’m on the Love Boat.

Mother sits inside, her mouth
slowly opened and fed by Silvio,
with whom she flirts
in a modest way, the only way she can

since Parkinson’s made her stiff and mute,
stand-in for her glamour self,
lover of good clothes, make-up, fine food.

Father stares ahead at the walls
he fashioned himself, that he swore
he’d never leave “except head first.”

When I talk to him he casts eyes down,
like someone excusing themselves
from the dinner table.

Last night I sat with him
and he was almost not there,
the ground dropping away,¬¬¬¬¬¬

as if his leaving not being gone
were the thing to fear––a kind of nakedness,
Biblical taboo.

His dying is a foreign country
I’ll speak of tomorrow to my sister
and guests at her son’s wedding

where we’ll dance in a white mansion,
roses growing over the terrace,
sip champagne, eat fruit from toothpicks.

And I say Yes, this is good and right
that death, folded aside like a crisp linen napkin,
be lifted, spread onto the laps
of the living,

as we watch bride and groom kiss
under her veil,
embarking on their forever.


New Millennium Writings, Winter, 2011