The house is empty. I’m not sure what to do
and death is so much closer than it was—
The phone isn’t ringing
starting 5 AM
and every ten minutes or so thereafter
Even the delusions have stopped
having culminated in one final coup de gras
She ascended, ascended to Jerusalem.
I got calls from what they call the Holy Land
affirming her ascent
“She’s here! She said she’s here—”
her friend in Sefat affirmed
from the mystics’ town
above the Sea of Galilee
It’s quiet in the house. It’s palpable her absence.
But then there’s only stillness—
—still here to pay her bills
—still find them both a proper stone
—a million stills to figure out
—recite her tale to those who still don’t know
I’m alone for the first time in my life
with neither father nor mother
nor surrogate of any kind
It’s way too quiet here.
Quiet inside and outside—
No demands and no delusions
No glaring fierceness in her words or silence
No words from him of guidance
She the poet of the wordless stare
Our Lady of Severity
Lest you forget
Seductive la Culevra de Aragon
La grande dame de Calle Sefardiyah
La reina in her castle
it’s really called that
really really called that
and so is she
My mother’s gone and left me
—still here to pay the bills
—to answer phones
—to tell her lover she’s not home
—and this time she’s not lying.
And when the breezes reignite
And sounds return, and breathing
I’ll know she’s here, I’m not alone—
just more afraid of dying
5 thoughts on “and death is so much closer than it was—a kaddish for rebecca fromer”
You are not alone.
When the stillness stifles you, remember: you are not alone. M and R, and A and N, and I, and T, and T, and L and D and O and H and R and A and B and an alphabet of chosen family surround you and walk with you in this mysterious process of still-alive-ness.
When the breezes reignite, remember: you are not alone. You needn’t be more afraid of dying. Remember how quietly, how gracefully, how peacefully she slipped away from us. She slept slowly. She slept more slowly. She slept so slowly that the bleeping screens could tell no more clearly than we could whether she was still sleeping, and eventually she slipped into eternal sleep that looked the same but sounded—after the beeps were silenced—only slightly quieter. She was still warm, but she was gone, and her body lay there showing us the beauty of her ages, the slightness of her age, and the soft glow of a woman finally done struggling—against the Holocaust, against anyone forgetting, against her nearest and dearest, and finally with the frailness of her own body.
When sounds return, remember that once you avoided music and now you remember how much great music is out there. And you are not alone.
When breathing returns, remember that you put your own life and health and happiness on hold to look after hers, and now you can once again gasp your own gasps and pant your own pants as you tend once again to your own life and health and happiness. And you are not alone.
Or forget all that, but remember this:
You are not alone.
At her graveside, I spoke of the afternoon that she read me this poem and I asked “Whom?” She glared at me and stared at you, and you glared at me and stared at her, and then one of you mumbled something safe and the other of you went with it, and you were both rescued from the horrible awkwardness. But I had my answer; these words were to you:
I’m okay with the last two line. The rest, surely, was not for me.
You go on telling yourself that.
I’m Dan Cieloha. In 10th-grade (1964-65) at Oakland’s Skyline High School, I had the joy and pleasure of being a student to an amazing English teacher, Rebecca Fromer. She just crossed my mind (for the first time since Google), and I decided to explore. That led me to Berkeley, the fabulous Magnes Museum, her life as a writer, poet, playwright, and all things amazing, and to her daughter, you. Even if your mom wasn’t “my” Rebecca Fromer, I’m needing to testify to someone at this moment, what a beacon of light she was for me.
I believe she was only at Skyline for one year; they were clearly not ready for her! However, I was! In the thrall of my fundamentalist Protestant upbringing that I’m sure I brought to each of my classes, Rebecca, nevertheless, saw who I really was. Her eyes flashed in that moment when an idea engaged her, when a student read a passage well, when a discussion transcended the leaden routine of the typical 1960s high school classroom. When those flashing eyes landed on me—when she saw and heard me engaged—I knew I was not who I was and had been but who I could and would be. She planted and began to nurture the seeds of my higher, more tolerant, open, true, and fearless self.
As an educator myself, I have often encouraged my discouraged students, especially those who want to or are teaching, that we are a profession that requires faith. We plant the acorns and/or are the ones who water the seedlings, or keep it growing straight by staking it. However, most of the time we won’t be there to see it as the vigorous and stately tree. We can only believe that what we have planted and nurtured will, at some later point, become abundantly self-evident in the student and to the world around her. In the short time I knew her, Rebecca Fromer was one of the faithful—a virtue intrinsic to her profession and her Jewish tradition.
If you are the daughter of the Rebecca Fromer I was blessed to encounter that year, your reading my thoughts here will make my eulogizing even dearer to me. In any case, the words and experiences they represent are now out in the world beyond my personal memory, and isn’t that really the tangible “eternal life” the virtuous deserve?