What Castor Oil Can’t Cure
-Thinking of My Cousin, Lori
Iris J. Arenson-Fuller
Lori visits me in dreams now
more often than I saw her in life,
sprinkles pennies on the ground for me
though it’s been decades since my stiff back
let me stoop easily to pick them up.
She knows I have little patience to pluck them
from the sidewalk, to wait till they gather
tarnished coppery troops at base camp
in the big jar on the cold bedroom floor,
or till they grow in numbers large enough to spend.
she knows I will pay attention now,
and will find them in places I had forgotten to see.
She told me her mother used to scatter pennies.
after she died they were found everywhere,
mysterious messages from a world beyond,
never mentioned or explained in lessons taught by
the suburban rabbi who lives next door.
I was bold that Sunday when I hurled my questions
out into the heavens, not expecting a reply.
was it more or less there than she had envisioned?
her answer–a palette of colors infinitely
beyond what eyes and minds see here,
a sense of connection to all,
or did I just wish that answer into my elf ears?
Were the words merely dandelion fluff sounds
floating through my head?
if wishes were horses, I’d be feeding them
apples and carrots in the meadow up the street
beyond the crumbling stone wall.
I always believed in putting up a good fight,
in not just catching what life wants to dole out,
even back when Lori and I sat on the steps,
giggling over scatological games toddlers play,
or when I socked the dark-curled boy from Boro Park
who rudely pushed me out of the pony cart.
And we cousins, though we didn’t always see it,
were cut from the same bolt of cloth,
knit from the same skein of old yard our grandma bought
from the one-eyed lady at the 13th Avenue market,
to make us those ugly zippered red sweaters.
I still believe in miracles that leave us awed
as though we have seen water flowing from rocks,
Aaron’s rod blooming, or manna from heaven.
I believe in miracles that blow our minds more than
psychedelic drugs, miracles that make our mouths drop
all the way to the parquet floor with a loud thump.
Lori believed in miracles, made them bedfellows
with practical solutions, not always mainstream,
but who wants to be mainstream
when undiscovered streams can flow
where we never thought we’d go?
How many aches and ailments did she advise
an Edgar Casey flannel rub with castor oil?
so when her belly filled with fluid,
when she let chemo charge into her life
to fight with the enemy, and tried to make friends,
though it seemed alien and viperous,
I begged softly for a miracle.
I used to think if we didn’t invite cancer in,
it could not cross sacred thresholds.
I thought if we were careful about
what we set out on the altars of our bodies,
we would stay safe, like tots tucked
under Bubbe’s crocheted coverlet.
but cancer needs no invitation
to enter our temples.
It did its evil best to suck out what sparkled,
what was spirited, till there was no fight,
it vacuumed up the energy she had once used
to create, to hold life gently in stories that rose
like vapors, almost writing themselves,
and in pictures that danced on canvas.
When we were three, sitting on the steps in Baltimore,
singing our silly songs under a canopy of bright sky,
we thought the world would roll at our feet for belly rubs,
we thought that cousins giggling, that sugar cookies cooling
upstairs in the kitchen was how the world was.
I doubt that flannel rubs will help my layers of scar tissue
from wounds healed over and reopened countless times.
still, I believe in miracles, as much as I believe
in the taste of grief that often fills my mouth like sand.
it hides there, ready to spring, no matter what morsels
of sweetness are temptresses at my table.
I always believed in putting up a good fight.
now I want to turn in my boxing gloves,
though the fight to go on no matter what
seems part of my genetic memory.
even those bitter swallows of grief
leave a lingering bouquet of fruit and hope
for a tomorrow I can’t possibly imagine,
but I go on imagining.
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Iris J. Arenson-Fuller, CPC, ACC, is a writer, poet, Certified Life Transformation Coach who helps people through big life changes, tough times, grief and loss of all types. Iris is also an Adoption Specialist, helping people with all issues pertaining to the Adoption Community.
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