Empty Stoops

A young chassid with his baby girl
sits across from an older man
on a bench one crisp morning.
Sunlight glows in the east
behind brown brick buildings.

The older man isn’t very old,
but it’s been a long time
since he’s held a baby.
As he watches the father and child,
his vision is flooded
with the faces of his own,
both away now,
learning and working,
and when he sees them,
he sees them like this,
as babies who fit upon his knee,
and he shivers with loss,
with the pain of passing time,
and sips his coffee.

And he aches for them, his children,
as his mind fills with them,
his son’s clamorous sense of self,
his daughter’s fierce sense of faith.

The chassid and his baby,
with so much before them,
how they share a mouth,
the shape of brow,
she’s a miniature bud
to his wild haired flower:
his dusty blue sweater
and brown felt kippah,
her yellow coat and red bow.

Look how he holds her so on his knees,
how he sings to her with his eyebrows
raised to his hairline and his bearded face
spread wide open.

Look how she peers into
his welcoming surprise,
look how she mimics him
open wide spread

like a long hello
from an otherworldly place.

And she turns into a hug tucking into him.

For this moment
for them nothing
else exists.

And the older man
knows he’s looking at Gd,
both of them together,
a manifestation,
a representation,
of wholeness
on a bench in Brooklyn.

On his knee there’s nothing,
nothing but memory,
but his remembrances are visceral,
his knowing the musk
of his son’s sweat,
his knowing the clench
of his daughter’s hand in his.

Does he smell the same as a man,
no longer a boy?
Her hand will no longer fit in his grasp
like it did.

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The same old wonderings
about which choices
might have been better –
missing his children, away, away,
both away, both moved on,
away, away,
like shooed pigeons
from the stoop.

He remembers wanting them to adventure.
He remembers craving his own time.
He remembers not wanting to miss them.
He remembers the sudden empty quiet

that never leaves.

He watches as the young chassid
hums a niggun for his baby girl
as he scrolls on his phone.
He is so himself, this father,
self-assured, blissful.

What can he know about the end of this very moment
being like every end of every moment he’ll ever have with her?

He wants to reach out to the young chassid,
at the risk of sounding like an old man,
at the risk of giving up his façade of cool resolve,
he wants to shake the young chassid
and remind him: hold on to this.

But he doesn’t.

The sun is higher.
He sips his coffee
and slips away,
changing nothing,
affecting no one.

He walks toward the rising sun,
turns on a street whose name
is faded from the green sign,
finds himself blocks away,
running away,
running back into himself,
finding here an empty stoop,
climbing the steps,
opening the door
to an abandoned room,
the walls peeling but solid,
the wood floors staunchly
upholding him
as he folds into a cry,
alone for his children,
alone for the empty spaces in his grasp,
alone for the empty spaces in his heart,
as he folds into himself,
empty and full.


Photo from Flickr.