Poem of the Week / Blood Keeps Getting Thicker Than Water

Poet Linda Zisquit turns the lens on her parents - 'she in her arthritic pain, he in his confusion.'

Calcium

Linda Zisquit

In the back seat of their new Oldsmobile

I sit behind them,

she in her arthritic pain he in his confusion

turns into driveways he doesn’t mean to.

Sometimes she forgets her cane as we get out.

I quickly shut my door and reach to help.


We sit on the beach and watch the waves.

I focus my lens and capture her sad face,

his availability. Blood thickens as we age,

plaque fills the veins, the back rounds

like a hill under which a whole life’s hidden.

Originally published in Linda Zisquit’s "The Face in the Window," Sheep Meadow Press, 2004, and included in "Havoc: New & Selected Poems," Sheep Meadow Press, 2013.

***

“Calcium” refers to the above photograph of Zisquit’s parents, taken in Florida on August 18, 1996. The poem was first published in Zisquit’s "The Face in the Window," Sheep Meadow Press, a sequence of poems, many of them 19 lines long, written into a 19-line Israeli machberet (standard ruled school notebook) that accompanied her on visits to her ailing parents. “Calcium” has also been included in Zisquit’s latest volume, "Havoc: New & Selected Poems," Sheep Meadow Press, 2013.

The poem is not strictly about the photo, but rather about the occasion on which the snapshot was taken. The day begins with an outing. “Dad drove; he loved cars, especially U.S.-made General Motors cars,” writes Zisquit in an email.

The Oldsmobile is a defunct American car named after its founder, one Ransom E. Olds (1865-1950) – and the subtext here of mobility for old people is clear. Zisquit notes in her email that her father’s “memory remained sharp but on that particular day I remember how he turned into a driveway thinking it was a street, and I knew something had changed.” This moment of recognizing a change should be familiar to anyone who pays periodic visits to “the old country” and suddenly realizes that loved ones left behind are aging. However, as the poet notes in the final line, not only they, but we too, are aging and we become reconciled to our relationships that might have been fraught in the past. Blood is thicker than water, even if the water is the whole of the Atlantic Ocean and the Mediterranean Sea.

Linda Stern Zisquit has published four full-length collections of poetry; her fifth volume of poetry has recently won a small press competition and will be published in 2014. Her translations from Hebrew poetry include "These Mountains: Selected Poems of Rivka Miriam" (2010); "Let the Words: Selected Poems of Yona Wallach" (2006); "Wild Light: Selected Poems of Yona Wallach" (1997), for which she received an NEA Translation Grant; and "Desert Poems of Yehuda Amichai" (1991). Born in Buffalo, New York, Zisquit has lived in Jerusalem with her husband and five children since 1978. She is associate professor and poetry coordinator for the Shaindy Rudoff Graduate Program in Creative Writing at Bar-Ilan University and runs ARTSPACE, an art gallery in Jerusalem representing contemporary artists.

Musings

*What is packed into the title “Calcium?” 

Linda Zisquit
Avigail Schimmel