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Mama Told Me

Mama Told Me

My mama told me

sticks and stones

may break my bones

that words

will never harm me


But the scars that words leave

are harsher than the deepest wounds


The scars that words leave

annihilate me to depths of my soul


The scars that words leave

scream at the unknown


The scars that words leave

shout for vengeance


They are just words

I tell myself

as I cry myself to sleep


These words are not defenseless

I will have my way


Another word another lesion

Another word another lesson


Today as my 96-year-old mother

sinks into dementia,

her Yiddish sayings bounce

around in my head.


It is as if I am suddenly bewitched,

With her Yiddishness.

And I don’t even know if that is a word


All I know is that with every step,

she takes away from her life,

another Yiddish phrase sticks in my head.


My mother would say plotz a lot.

I thought it meant to die,

as she was often screaming at me

at us and saying we should just plotz


I was wrong plotz,

has nothing to do with death.

It means to split, crack, burst, or explode but not die.

It further connotes to be overcome with emotion,

give way to excitement, anger, or delight.


I wonder now –

How did I come to that deadly conclusion?


She would often say we were farshtunkener.

That word speaks for itself – it means stinky.

She would call us shtunks which was even worse –

we were stinkers and nasty and smelly.

When things were untenable for her

She would burst out that we were fakakta –

That is lousy, messed up, and or ridiculous.


When we were getting too big for our britches

She would exclaim!

“Who do you think you are Chaim Yankel?”

I had no idea who Chaim Yankel was or is.


I just knew I did not want to be like him.


It wasn’t till I was fifty years old

that I discovered

there was no such person.


Chaim was a figment of my mother’s,

and every mother’s imagination

Chaim was a nonentity, a nobody.


He was just another poor Joe.


However, there was another guy,

whose name sprung to her lips,

and to whom we were often compared.

His name will go down in our personal infamy,

the strangest and most notorious of them all

– this was the renown Ish Kabibble

a comedian of moderate fame

and to his credit he also played the cornet

rather well I am told.


I guess she was concerned about us,

as Ish Kabibble derived from a mock-Yiddish

expression, Ische ga bibble meaning don’t worry.


And lest I forget there was yet another gentleman

airing on our family’s airwaves, none other

than the irresistible Moishe Kapoyr

who despite his fictional origins

loomed large in our childish minds.


Mom proclaimed this garish title

upon us when we were too set in our ways.

The Moishe demeanor was full of contrary

and stubborn oppositeness.

We were doomed forever to a fate

we never understood.


One of her more stranger phrases

Involved a teapot as she shrieked

when we were bothering her

“Stop hocking me a chainik.”

What did banging on a teapot,

have to do with anything.

This I did not know

and just resolved to leave her be.


When the weather got too hot

in the house she kept spotless

she would be schvitzing,

a word that speaks sweating

without translation.


When all else failed the final

disapprobation she called us

the self-defined word meshuggeneh

we were all at the same time

nuts – crazy – insane,

which perfectly defined our existence.


My mother had tragedy written on her face,

when pronouncing these Yiddish expletives.


But in reality, to her we were her yingele her boys.



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