Yahrzeit

The calendar’s a field sown with jacks-in-the-box,
gold doubloons, and booby traps. The first special
day is marked down before you know it,
your bottom smacked, torso swaddled, form filled
in forever. Parents have birthdays too,
a revelation with implications.
Two more days set apart. Add siblings. Add
best friends. That girl you’ve got a crush on or
the boy you want to hang with. Wonderful
that something everybody’s got one of
should be the occasion of parties, presents,
a mandatory song. The calendar
gets crowded as you age. Each month, circles
proliferate like solar lentigines
what with spouses, ex-spouses, children,
chums, current and quondam in-laws, colleagues,
nieces, nephews, culture heroes, grandkids—
until the year’s so packed you need to
make a list, magnetize it to the
Frigidaire, instruct the memorious
iMac to goose your forgetfulness, remind
you to pick up a card. Every store sells
the things, mostly dumb. Why not? Eight billion
dollars’ worth moved last year. Most calendars
come with holidays pre-remembered,
the official, the commercial. All Saints’,
Mother’s, Father’s, St. Valentine’s, St. Stephen’s,
New Year’s, Christmas, Chanukah, Secretaries’,
Simchat Torah, Easter, Rosh Hashanah,
Thanksgiving, Super Sunday, Veterans,
Independence, Labor—even Eid al-Fitr’s
on some. The months tear away faster and
faster, like in those old movies. And then,
inexorable as insomnia, solemn
as back pain, the deaths pile up. What to do?
There won’t be any ice cream or yellow
cake. No profit for Hallmark—where would
you send the card? You could kindle a blunt white
candle, but chances are you won’t. Like an
armed Spaniard plunging his flag into virgin
sand, death stakes claim on claim until the months
are forested with them. Most you’ll thoughtlessly
forget. But some you just can’t. Today, I
stepped once more into the minefield of May.

Robert Wexelblatt is a professor of humanities at Boston University’s College of General Studies. He has published five fiction collections; two books of essays; two short novels; a book of poems; stories, essays, and poems in a variety of journals; and a novel awarded the Indie Book Awards first prize for fiction. Two collections, one of Chinese stories, the other of non-Chinese, are forthcoming.

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